It was a “moment of madness” in which Robert Weber was looking for a shortcut on his way home to Narangba from the Kilkivan Hotel on January 6, which led to his 18-day ordeal of survival in the Queensland bush.
On Sunday morning the 58-year-old was found by local MP and grazier, Tony Perrett, beside a dam where he had been living for nearly two weeks.
Mr Weber had been surviving on wild mushrooms and dam water.
On January 6, Mr Weber had taken a righthand turn off a main road and followed what he thought was the direction “the crow flies” to Narangba.
He drove for three hours, through four different farm gates before his car became bogged.
The car eventually broke down in his attempts to free it.
“I had water for about three days … it was raining so I was collecting water on the car itself. The car has catchment areas on it, around the boot and I was using a plastic bottle to siphon it up, but when that ran dry that was when I left the car to look for more water,” he said.
Mr Weber said on that search he injured himself after he lost his footing while climbing along an embankment of boulders.
“I came down about 15 metres on my arse and lost my matches and everything I had in my hands. I had my knife still and the handle of the water bottle, but that was all I had left,” he said.
“I am still nursing that [injury]. I sort of ripped, grated my whole back quarter here.”
Ants ‘were my worst predator’
Mr Weber said he found several waterholes as he walked, but eventually left them to look for a better source.
“One [waterhole] actually dried up while I was there, I spent an average of two days at each before moving on,” he said.
Mr Weber said he began eating mushrooms, crushing them in his mouth and washing down half a mouthful at a time with water.
“I’d fall asleep [for] two hours roughly. I had a watch on so I could work out how long I had slept. That was sleep I needed because I didn’t get much,” he said.
“I would dust off my hat and there would be a swarm of them so I would rotate 45 degrees and crash there, but then it would be the same thing two or three hours later.”
He said he could hear the SES helicopter looking for him and actually saw searchers in the helicopter three times, but was unable to get their attention.
“When the SES helicopter went quiet, I was on the boundary of the search,” he said.
“The search continued by foot and horse, which I didn’t know because I heard nothing. I was living in constant hope.
“I was devastated. I was absolutely devastated. It was right there in front of me, I could have eyeballed the guy [pilot].”
Mr Weber said at times he felt like giving up hope but managed to snap himself out of any negative thoughts.
Mr Weber’s children gave him hope to survive
He said it was a “serene” experience when he was finally rescued.
“I was a long way from dead. I was on a stable diet that was enjoyable.”
He said he lost 10 kilograms of body weight during the ordeal.
“Boredom was the biggest thing. I fell into a hole of depression, but I snapped out of it very quickly and thought, ‘Come on you can’t do that. It is not a choice’,” he said.
Mr Weber said his two sons James and Henry, aged 26 and 23, kept him going.
“They rescued me yesterday,” he said.
“If I didn’t have children it would be a totally different scenario – I would probably have given up.”
Sergeant Hans Van Kempem said it was a “joyous moment” hearing Mr Weber had been found.
“It was really good to get a phone call from the owner of the property,” he said.
“A wonderful ending the family were very happy. There was a lot of relief.”
Sergeant Van Kempem said police were examining why it took so long to find Mr Weber.
“There were a few factors we’re obviously looking at which contributed to how Robert got lost in the bush, which contributed to him not being found sooner.”
Mr Weber said he would never take another risky short cut again.
“I have been stranded before, but not stranded for 18 days. Hopelessly stranded,” he said.
“It was just mad. One of those things.”
Mr Weber said he had no survival training but had lots of experience camping with his friends and he drew on past experiences he had as a pilot 40 years ago, for navigation.
Unfortunately Mr Weber’s dog is still missing.