The young family found dead in outback Northern Territory after their car had become stranded, were travelling in a vehicle that ran out of fuel and had a flat tyre, police confirmed.
The body of a 19-year-old man and woman and a three-year-old boy were found on Wednesday after a man from the Willowra Aboriginal community, 300km northwest of Alice Springs, raised the alarm.
A police search for a missing 12-year-old boy, also believed to be in the car, found the body of a child 120 metres from the three family members on Thursday.
Police could not confirm the exact relationship between the trio and the boy, aside from saying the group having “broad family linkages”.
Speaking to the media on Friday morning, Southern Desert Division Superintendent Jody Nobbs described the event as a “tragic situation”.
He could not reveal which community the family was connected to or their identities, only to say they were Central Australian community members.
“It’s not only heartbreaking for that community, it’s also heartbreaking for the broader community – equally the emergency service family that responded,” Supt Nobbs said.
“My heart and thoughts are with the community over this difficult time. We will continue to work with the community… to assist them in getting through this difficult situation.”
How the group became stranded in the NT outback
The group had left Willowra on Friday bound for the Jarra Jarra outstation and were last seen at Ti Tree. It is believed the car, which was unroadworthy, ran out of fuel with a flat tyre that day on the Jarra Jarra Road.
The temperatures were around 40 degrees on Friday and the weekend.
Supt Nobbs described the area the family to be a “rugged, remote, and vast location”.
The road is remote with limited traffic and it was likely the group did not see any cars before they perished, he said.
Heat, lack of food, likely cause of death
The family likely died due to extreme heat and a lack of food and water, police say.
“The cause of death is a matter for the coroner, however the cause of death is likely to have been exposure to the elements,” Supt Nobbs said.
The bodies and car were about 60km from Willowra and 18km from Jarra Jarra, which would have been the nearest water source.
The vehicle has been seized and the coroner will be making a formal investigation.
Trips for driving through Australian outback
Supt Nobbs said the tragedy was a sad reminder to take precautions when travelling on remote Northern Territory roads.
“This does serve, unfortunately, as a timely reminder for anyone traveling on NT roads to ensure that when you travel your vehicle is in a fit state, that you have adequate supplies including water and a first-aid kit.”
He advised travellers to let someone know their travel itinerary before setting off – when you intend to leave and arrive, and your planned routes, so others can notify police if you don’t make it as planned.