Missing Tasmanian girl Shayla Phillips search raises fresh hopes as survival expert weighs in

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A survival expert who helped find missing boy AJ Elfalak has shared the lessons he learned as police drain four dams and deploy a heat-seeking drone in the bush search for four-year-old Shayla Phillips.  

The little girl vanished from her mother’s backyard in Stormlea, in Tasmania‘s south-east, while playing with a neighbour’s two dogs about 2.30pm on Wednesday afternoon. 

The child has now been missing for two full nights but search and rescue teams said there is some reason for hope as temperatures have not fallen dramatically overnight – hitting 13C last night, and about 10C the night before. 

Jake Cassar, who helped find three-year-old ‘miracle boy’ AJ when he wandered off from his parents in remote NSW bushland last September, told Daily Mail Australia it is critical that search crews repeatedly retrace their steps.

The bush tracker warned it could be weeks before Shayla was found and urged searchers not to give up, no matter how long it has been. 

‘Even a trained expert could easily miss someone – they don’t see the kid curled up in a tiny little ball behind a tree,’ Mr Cassar said. 

‘Just don’t make assumptions.’

Search and rescue teams are hopeful they will soon find a four-year-old girl (pictured, Shayla Phillips) missing in remote Tasmania as they are assisted by interstate police and good weather

Search and rescue teams are hopeful they will soon find a four-year-old girl (pictured, Shayla Phillips) missing in remote Tasmania as they are assisted by interstate police and good weather 

SES Rescue is joined by Tasmanian Police as the search continued for missing girl Shayla Phillips on Friday

SES Rescue is joined by Tasmanian Police as the search continued for missing girl Shayla Phillips on Friday

Ground search teams have spent the last three days combing through rugged bushland looking for Shayla

Ground search teams have spent the last three days combing through rugged bushland looking for Shayla

A survival expert (pictured, Jake Cassar) who helped find three-year-old AJ Elfalak in remote NSW in September said search crews would need to revisit places in the chance the four-year-old retraced her steps

A survival expert (pictured, Jake Cassar) who helped find three-year-old AJ Elfalak in remote NSW in September said search crews would need to revisit places in the chance the four-year-old retraced her steps 

Mr Cassar said AJ Elfalak had circled back to a watering hole during his disappearance, and warned anyone with ‘two legs and a heartbeat’ could likely be on the move.  

‘AJ Elfalak should really stand as an example of young people’s resilience, human resilience, and why we shouldn’t assume we’ve searched one area they wont be found in that area later,’ Mr Cassar said. 

Mr Cassar said several factors could influence how long Shayla could survive on her own – including access to drinking water.

‘I don’t know how cold it is – that would be something that needs to be considered,’ he said.

‘If she’s been able to get herself to shelter, to water (she’ll be OK). Humans can go three to four weeks without food. 

‘I’m just really hoping they don’t start to wind things up. What I hope will occur is at least several weeks of searching. 

‘If I could afford to drop everything I’d be there in a heartbeat.’

Mr Cassar said he was discouraged when search efforts were wound back during the search for AJ – even though the boy turned out to be alive and well in the bush the whole time. 

Mr Cassar warned one of the risks of a missing person being caught out in the cold was the risk of catching hypothermia – a fear he held when searching for missing AJ.

He was relieved to hear temperatures had not plummeted too low in Stormlea, where Shayla vanished from.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Tasmanian Assistant Police Commissioner Jonathan Higgins said every resource was being thrown into the search mission for Shayla, including an aerial thermal imaging device.

When Shayla's mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared (pictured, Shayla Phillips, 4, riding on a lawn mower)

When Shayla’s mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared (pictured, Shayla Phillips, 4, riding on a lawn mower)

Shayla Phillips vanished from her mother's backyard in Stormlea, southeast of Hobart, while playing with a neighbour's two dogs at 2.30pm on Wednesday

Shayla Phillips vanished from her mother’s backyard in Stormlea, southeast of Hobart, while playing with a neighbour’s two dogs at 2.30pm on Wednesday

Police have used sniffer dogs to help and track down missing four-year-old Shayla Phillips

Police have used sniffer dogs to help and track down missing four-year-old Shayla Phillips

Police have been tirelessly searching for Shayla since she disappeared from her home on Wednesday

Police have been tirelessly searching for Shayla since she disappeared from her home on Wednesday

Last movements of four-year-old 

Shayla Phillips, 4, was playing with a neighbour’s two dogs in her mother’s backyard in Stormlea, southeast of Hobart, at 2.30pm on Wednesday. 

When Shayla’s mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared. 

She called Tasmania Police at 3pm after frantically searching the property herself. 

Shayla was wearing pink leggings, a cream top and gumboots when she was last seen. 

Inspector Gavin Hallett said the two dogs Shayla had been playing with had been found ‘quite a distance away’ from their original location.

One was found by the next morning, about 800m away from the property. 

‘That’s an indicator to us, that if there had been some untoward activity the dogs wouldn’t have been gone, they would have been here,’ he said on Thursday. 

Sniffer dogs, specialised divers and police personnel have been combing the nearby bushland for clues for the past three days. 

Victoria Police sent sniffer dog to assist in the search mission on Thursday – and will send over a search helicopter on Friday. 

‘The fixed wing, the capability there, it can stay in the air much longer, so the four hours it was in the air last night, using its imagery, it could feed information down to the ground crew,’ he said. 

‘The reason we don’t have lots of people on the ground at that time is we’re trying to find single heat signatures.

‘The dog that is being used from Victoria Police is enhancing our capability.’  

Police inspector Gavin Hallett said search and rescue teams were becoming ‘increasingly concerned’ for the welfare of the little girl. 

‘It’s concerning … she’s only four and any person who has to stay out in the elements, there is obviously concerns for their wellbeing,’ inspector Hallett said.  

Sniffer dogs, specialised divers and police personnel have been combing the nearby bushland for clues ever since Shayla’s frantic mother reported her missing. 

A series of new images of Shayla has been circulated on social media in hopes she may be recognised, picturing the missing child grinning in a two-piece pink tracksuit, and eating an ice block in another.

Insp Hallett said on Thursday that Shayla was 'a very healthy, happy young child', and described her mother as 'stoic and strong'

Police have resumed an extensive air and land search for the third day with drones, sniffer dogs from Victoria, rescue helicopters and divers joining in the effort

Inspector Hallett said all police resources are on hand, searching the difficult terrain for signs of the missing girl

Inspector Hallett said all police resources are on hand, searching the difficult terrain for signs of the missing girl

Tasmanian Police have launched an extensive air and land search for the little girl however no trace of the 'healthy, happy' child has been found

Tasmanian Police have launched an extensive air and land search for the little girl however no trace of the ‘healthy, happy’ child has been found

Three-year-old AJ Elfalak (pictured) was found near his family's property in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley, after spending three nights on his own

Three-year-old AJ Elfalak (pictured) was found near his family’s property in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley, after spending three nights on his own

Shayla’s last known movements went as follows, according to Police Inspector Gavin Hallett.

‘She was playing outside with some dogs from the neighbouring residence, that’s not an uncommon thing.

‘Shayla knows the dogs well and is very fond of them.’

When Shayla’s mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared. 

She called Tasmania Police at 3pm after frantically searching the property herself. The dog was found by the next morning, about 800m away from the property.

There have been few clues as to where she may have disappeared to. 

Insp Hallett said on Thursday that Shayla was ‘a very healthy, happy young child’, and described her mother as ‘stoic and strong’.

‘She’s very positive and hopeful that we’ll find Shayla today,’ he said. 

He said the little girl was known to go missing for up to 15 minutes at a time during games of hide and seek but had failed to return on this occasion.  

Insp Hallett confirmed the two dogs Shayla had been playing with had been found ‘quite a distance away’ from their original location. 

When Shayla's mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared

When Shayla’s mother, Bianca, went to check on her daughter after 30 minutes she found the girl and the dogs had disappeared 

Shayla Phillips was wearing a cream top and gumboots when she was last seen on Wednesday

Shayla Phillips was wearing a cream top and gumboots when she was last seen on Wednesday

Inspector Gavin Hallett (pictured) says Tasmania Police's top resources have been employed in the search for Shayla Phillips

Inspector Gavin Hallett (pictured) says Tasmania Police’s top resources have been employed in the search for Shayla Phillips

The four-year-old went missing from her backyard in Tasmania's remote southeastern peninsula

The four-year-old went missing from her backyard in Tasmania’s remote southeastern peninsula

‘That’s an indicator to us, that if there had been some untoward activity the dogs wouldn’t have been gone, they would have been here,’ he said on Thursday. 

At this stage authorities don’t believe any other parties were involved in the child’s disappearance. 

Shayla was wearing pink leggings, a cream top and gumboots when she was last seen. 

Inspector Hallett said all police resources are on hand, searching the difficult terrain for signs of the missing girl.

‘The area around here is very undulating pastureland but its also very dense woodland,’ he said. 

‘In all we’ve had close to 100 emergency service personnel assisting in the search.

‘Because of the isolation, terrain and age of Shayla the rescue helicopter was deployed immediately.’ 

The search to find Shayla involves Tasmania Police, SES, the Police Drone Unit, specialist dogs and a Westpac Rescue Helicopter.  

Rescue teams continued the search overnight as temperatures dropped in the isolated area

Rescue teams continued the search overnight as temperatures dropped in the isolated area

The dive squad had also been called in. 

‘There are a number of dams on the property, there’s four in close proximity and they’ve been cleared overnight,’ Mr Hallett said.

‘Our drone capacity has a thermal sensor that can be used to detect movement in heavily wooded area.’

Police have requested no further assistance from the public in the search due to the isolation of the area. 

‘To ensure a coordinated and safe search, police advise that sufficient resources are currently deployed to the area and further assistance is not sought at this time.’ 



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