Disappearances and Disappearances: What to Do When You Get Lost

Every now and then someone disappears from the face of the earth, it seems. Some people are found again, others are never seen again. Sometimes there is crime involved, but sometimes people really get lost. This was, for example, the case in July 2011 when the Dutch Mary-Anne Goossens got lost in Spain. About disappearing, disappearances and getting lost.

No idea where you are or how you’ll get home

For many people it is a nightmare. Ending up somewhere and not knowing how to get back. And especially that you are lost in an environment that you are not familiar with in nature, where there are no facilities and therefore your health is also at risk. What happens to someone if he or she gets lost and ends up in a situation that is unknown and sometimes life-threatening?

Fascination with disappearances

Many people are fascinated by disappearances. The girl Madeleine McCann, the disappearance of the Dutch Mary-Anne Goossens in 2011 in Spain, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, the disappearance of 15-year-old Willeke Dost. Many of these cases were never resolved, but in other cases the people fortunately ended up well again. This fascination probably has to do with people’s fear of ever ending up in such a situation. For many people it is the worst thing that can happen to them.

Films about disappearing and getting lost

Many films and series have been made and books have been written about the subject of disappearing and getting lost. Examples include:

  • Cast Way
  • Into the Void
  • 127 Hours
  • Lost
  • Missing
  • Without a trace


Lost in the wilderness or jungle

What is an almost incredibly scary idea for many people is the idea of getting lost in the wilderness. This nature has dangers in store for Westerners that they do not know and that make them panic. However, getting lost in the wilderness requires the necessary knowledge of nature to survive that adventure and many people certainly cannot do that. Notable missing persons cases in the wilderness include:

  • Raoul Vanderdonck from Schin op Geul who disappeared during a walk in the High Fens. His body was found months later by a shepherd and he was found to have died of hypothermia. He probably got lost and the elements proved fatal.
  • The Limburg pastor Frans Klein who went missing during a walk in the mountains on Samos. The pastor’s lifeless body was also later found in a cave. His family thinks he got lost, authorities in Greece say he died of a heart attack.
  • Steve Fosset who went missing while flying his plane over the Sierra Nevada. His plane disappeared in 2007. It was only a year later that remains of the plane were found, as well as the remains of someone. Later it turned out that this was Fosset.
  • Amelia Earhart who disappeared without a trace while flying over the Pacific Ocean. The first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a plane crashed in 1937. She has never been found.


Why do people get lost?

Western people do not exactly have a well-developed sense of orientation. That is no longer necessary, because for food you simply walk to the supermarket and if you have to go somewhere in the car, you grab the tom-tom. Sense of direction has probably been lost in the evolution of Western humans. Elsewhere in the world it is still necessary to have that sense of direction and there are plenty of peoples who can determine where they are and where they are coming from miles away without a compass. It is striking, for example, that people in Bali who cannot point out where the north is are considered crazy.

Getting lost due to a poor sense of orientation

People get lost because they have no or poor sense of orientation. This especially happens if they do not have any aids with them, if they are in an environment that they are unfamiliar with and where modern aids such as telephone or GPS are not available. If someone also has no topographical knowledge or can see approximately which direction to go, things often go wrong.

Getting lost is gradual

Getting lost in the wilderness is also referred to as Wood Shock. People no longer recognize the different trees, walk in circles or wander off more and more. And it happens even to the most experienced hikers and mountain climbers. Moreover, the process of getting lost is very gradual. One moment someone is still in civilization and then notices 5 minutes later that there is no civilization anymore or that what is there is completely strange. When that realization sinks in, the person often looks for the last point that was recognizable. But whoever takes the wrong path can end up getting further and further away from something that was still somewhat known. The increasing unfamiliarity of the environment then leads to vertigo. Vertigo is the feeling a person gets when he or she becomes light-headed because the environment seems to be spinning. They then have the feeling that the trees are coming towards them and that can lead to a feeling of claustrophobia and panic. In that blind panic, a person can start running and get further and further away from what he is looking for. Only when someone comes out of there and becomes calm again, there is hope of returning to civilization. Someone then starts thinking clearly and planning things again.

What to do if you get lost in the wilderness?

If you get lost in the wilderness, it is best to do the following:

  • Stay in one place
  • Mark the area with a fire, for example, so that you can be seen
  • Provide food, drink and fire. So you have to look for that in nature
  • Don’t give up or fall into lethargy. Anyone who does not make a plan themselves and provide food and drink is far too dependent on others.

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