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Two people in orange uniforms walk among ferns and trees.

The NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue team conducts searches in some of the state's most rugged wilderness.( Supplied: Harry Smith)

Trevor Salvado is not the kind of person you'd expect to get lost in the bush.

He's an experienced hiker who loves the outdoors and has been involved with search and rescue operations.

But in 2019, Mr Salvado and his wife Jacinta Bohan were on a hike in Victoria's Mount Buffalo National Park when things went very wrong.

"We were walking on the track and the bush was just getting thicker and thicker … And then we walked into a position where we couldn't really see any more [track] markers," he tells ABC RN's Sunday Extra.

"And with the scrub thickening up, we actually weren't quite sure which direction we'd come from."

The couple stopped and spent five minutes discussing, each convinced they had come from a different direction.

"Then we just came to the conclusion, OK, we're lost. What do we need to do now?"

Anyone can get lost in the bush

The recent ordeal of three-year-old Anthony 'AJ' Elfalak was the latest bushland search and rescue operation to receive national attention.

AJ, who has autism and is non-verbal, spent three days lost in rural NSW bush, before being found just 200 metres from where he went missing.

But Caro Ryan, a deputy unit commander with the NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue team who took part in the search for AJ, says that just about anyone can get lost in the bush.

A woman in an orange uniform and COVID-19 mask sitting at a computer.

Caro Ryan says some of the most crucial decisions around safety in the bush are made before setting out. (Supplied: Brittany Palmer)

"We may have a month or two months with no [search and rescue] jobs for our unit. And then we might have three in a week, which actually happened to us this week."

Ms Ryan says people get lost year-round, with the most common locations being popular national parks, such as the Blue Mountains and Kosciuszko National Parks in NSW and the Grampians in Victoria.

A man in a red uniform walks among boulders and trees.

Members of the SES search for Jacinta Bohan and Trevor Salvado in Mount Buffalo in March 2019.(Facebook: Victoria SES Bright Unit)

She says the good news is that around 95 per cent of people who get lost in the bush are found in the first 12 hours, meaning major operations, such as in the case of AJ, are not often needed.

But when people go missing for longer periods, their chances of survival and being found can depend on some important choices.

It's all about the preparation

Ms Ryan says the most crucial decisions around bush safety are actually made before setting off.

 "One of the key things is choosing a hike that's within your capabilities. Try and be realistic about your fitness level and experience. And really understand what hills or mountains may be part of it," she says.

Then, Ms Ryan points to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Police's Think Before You Trek initiative as a good guide, which encourages bushwalkers to do four important steps before a big hike.

These are: take enough water (at least two litres per person), food, equipment and first aid supplies; register your trip; take an emergency personal locator beacon (PLB); and always keep to your planned route.

"Always tell someone where you're going," Ms Ryan adds.

"[And also], wear bright clothes," she says.

What to do if you're lost

So, you're deep in the Australian wilderness and you think you're lost.

"Stop. Don't panic. Give yourself the chance to plan wisely and make good choices … The ability to keep a clear head is probably the most powerful resource you've got," Ms Ryan says.

Only if it's safe to do so, go to any nearby high ground to look for clues or mobile phone coverage.

Then, if you are well and truly lost and it appears you need to be rescued, there are six extremely important words of advice.

"Stay put and make yourself seen," Ms Ryan says.

"Looking for a moving target is incredibly difficult," she says, citing the case of British backpacker Jamie Neale.

Mr Neale went missing in the Blue Mountains in 2009, but kept moving, so the search party kept missing him. After 12 days, he was found by two bushwalkers.

"If you are moving, it makes planning and structures so difficult … Every time you move, it's like we reset our search to day zero," Ms Ryan says.

Rescuers describe the moment they found missing toddler AJ Elfalak

And those bright clothes you wore when you set out will make you much easier to find.

To survive, Ms Ryan says to take stock of your situation and make a detailed plan.

"Get in a position out of the wind or the cold … and monitor your resources, like food and water."

It's a playbook that Trevor Salvado fortunately knew well.

Knowledge can be lifesaving

After getting lost on Mount Buffalo, Mr Salvado and his wife stayed as calm and rational as possible, which he says greatly helped their survival.

The pair stumbled on a small creek and, with darkness setting in, he knew they could not afford to get even more lost.

A middle-aged woman with bright-coloured clothes laid on bushland.

Jacinta Bohan and Trevor Salvado tried to make themselves visible to the search and rescue operation.(Supplied: Trevor Salvado)

"We ended up on this huge, rocky outcrop … and we knew that once we decided to spend the night there, we needed to stay in the one spot," Mr Salvado says.

"We didn't want to injure ourselves or do any nasty damage to ourselves."

A middle-aged man poses next to a shelter built out of ferns.

Trevor Salvado knew what steps he and his wife had to take to ensure they survived in the bush.(Supplied: Trevor Salvado)

The couple then built a shelter out of vegetation to help them stay warm and dry.

For four nights, they very carefully rationed their supplies and drank from the creek.

A search and rescue operation was triggered, but the pair worked out they weren't far from a road so they managed to walk there and were found.

How do major operations work?

A small search — typically a few police — is usually triggered as soon as a person is reported missing in the bush. Then it's up to the police as to how the search is scaled up and how long it lasts.

In AJ's case, hundreds of people, including the SES, police, rural fire service personnel and family members searched bushland day and night.

"Everything starts from what we call the LKP — the last known point, the last place that we know for sure that person was — everything comes out of that," Ms Ryan says.

"[And] we start to build a search strategy based on an analysis of the type of person who's missing."

For AJ, this involved looking at the behaviours of people living with autism who had gone missing in the past, in addition to factoring in his age.

It's a point echoed by Valentine Smith, a retired investigator who worked with Victoria Police for 40 years, including on bush search and rescues.

"You have to profile every element of the missing person, but also profile everything else, like the environment. You need to understand every element and break it all down into compartments," he says.

"I've looked at cases right back to the 1800s in Australia … And I found cases which had information in them [about looking in the Australian bushland] that were relevant today."

Men embrace as others look on.

AJ Elfalak's father Anthony is embraced by family after they learnt that his son had been found.(ABC Upper Hunter: Jake Lapham )

For now, those in the search and rescue world are looking back at the operation to find AJ Elfalak and considering what lessons it holds.

"What can we learn from this case for the next time this happens? Because it will happen again," Ms Ryan says.

You can read the complete artcilce Here