James Hugh McLEAN

Missing bushwalker James McLean Flinders Island man James McLean

Hopes fade for James McLean, missing in south-west Tasmanian wilderness

By James Dunlevie - ABC - December 26 2018


When 76-year-old James Hugh McLean took off to explore Tasmania's remote south-west, it was not out of character.

Key points:

  • Missing man James McLean was last seen on November 12, when he began a month-long walk in Tasmania's south-west region
  • The 76-year-old signed in at the Huon Track registration hut on November 13 and was planning on heading to Melaleuca and returning mid December
  • Police now say "given the length of time he has been missing, the lack of food supplies and the difficulty of the terrain, the hopes of finding Mr McLean alive are fading"


The experienced bushwalker has been known to go on long treks with minimal supplies.

This time, it is feared he may not return, like many others who are lured into the Tasmanian wilderness but are never seen again.

A resident of Flinders Island, Mr McLean was last seen around mid November before setting off on what was to be a month-long trek in the state's far south-west, intending to return by December 13.

On Boxing Day, police said they held "grave fears" for him, having found no trace despite intensive searches of over 100 kilometres of walking tracks leading in and out of the area he is believed to have been walking through.

Flinders Island resident Lois Ireland, who knows Mr McLean, told the ABC he was currently the talk of the island.

"Some people are saying 'well that's it. He's done. He's gone,'" she said. "Others are hopeful that he'll just pop up and wonder what all the fuss was about."

That would be truly remarkable the bush in Tasmania rarely releases those lost within it.

'Sometimes you won't see anybody for days'

People can and have survived extended periods in the Tasmanian wilderness but they are the exception.

Those searching for lost people have remarked on how the bush can be so thick it means looking down from rescue aircraft can be futile.

Those rescued have told how the forest can be so dense it forces the shedding of a backpack or other gear, with walking tracks disappearing in the scrub.

While stunningly beautiful, the Tasmanian wilderness of the south-west could be punishing, Hobart Walking Club president Geoff O'Hara said.

"You're under your own power, you're carrying all your gear. You can stop and just admire the views. Sometimes you won't see anybody for days."

"It's a beautiful area, there's no other word for it. It's absolutely fabulous out there."

But the beauty came at a price, he said.

"The really intense [scrub] is very difficult to get through it's very wearing on your body, you get very, very tired," Mr O'Hara said.

With the search for James Hugh McLean a week old, Inspector Andrew O'Dwyer said authorities were hopeful he would reappear.

"Mr Maclean has been known to deviate from his path, he's also been known to understate the number of days he might be away. So we were prepared for this," Inspector O'Dwyer said on December 20.

"As for preparations, he's known to pack very lightly."

However, six days later and the language about Mr McLean's chances had changed.

Sadly, police hold grave fears for Mr McLean. Given the length of time he has been missing, the lack of food supplies and the difficulty of the terrain, the hopes of finding Mr McLean alive are fading," Acting Inspector O'Dwyer said on Wednesday.

"We remain in close contact with Mr McLean's family and our thoughts continue to be with them at this difficult time."

It is understood Mr McLean was not carrying an emergency beacon when he headed into the wilderness.

Louise Ireland said Jim McLean was widely regarded on Flinders Island as an enigmatic person, who "goes off and has these adventures".

"He's a tough old bugger. He could probably live on moths and insects and mushrooms for ages," she said.

One thing is for sure if Mr McLean was to emerge from the Tasmanian bush, it would be much more than just the talk of Flinders Island.

If anyone has information as to the whereabouts of Mr McLean, they are urged to contact Tasmania Police on 131 444.

Police admit little hope of finding Tasmanian bushwalker James McLean alive

By Ainslie Koch - ABC

December 28 2018

A search-and-rescue party looking for a missing Tasmanian bushwalker have stumbled on another walker needing help because of an injured ankle.

Search crews unexpectedly located the 38-year-old Hobart man on Wednesday during the search for James Hugh McLean, who authorities admit there is little hope of finding alive.

The bushwalker, who has not been named, became stranded with an injured ankle near Craycroft Crossing in the state's south-west wilderness.

Search crews have been scouring the same area for Mr McLean, who has not been seen since November 12.

The 76-year-old Flinders Island resident had embarked on a 100-kilometre journey in the south-west and was due to return on December 13.

He signed into the Huon Track registration hut on November 13, but has not been seen since.

The search team deployed a helicopter on Wednesday night which failed to find any trace of Mr McLean, despite using highly sophisticated night vision equipment.

Acting Inspector Andrew O'Dwyer said search crews scaled the entire walking track between Mount Rugby and the Huon Track where he began his journey, via ground and air for more than a week.

"Given the length of time he has been missing, the lack of food sources within the area and the difficulty of the terrain, we must be realistic that if Mr McLean is within the South-West National Park, there is now little hope of finding him alive," said Acting Inspector O' Dwyer.

Police are reviewing whether the search will continue.

Mr Mclean is a highly experienced bushwalker and is renowned for venturing off-track without adequate supplies.

The terrain is known for being thick, with Hobart Walking Club president Geoff O' Hara telling the ABC that the wilderness could be unforgiving.

"The really intense [scrub] is very difficult to get through it's very wearing on your body, you get very, very tired," he said.