Pilot who helped search for Cleo Smith says girl was gone from the campsite before police arrived

Helena Burke and Angie RaphaelNCA NewsWire
Missing girl Cleo Smith.
Camera IconMissing girl Cleo Smith. Credit: Supplied

A pilot who was one of the first people to begin the search for missing Cleo Smith says the four-year-old was probably gone from the area long before police arrived on the scene.

Justin Borg received a desperate call from Cleo’s parents on Saturday morning, pleading for him to help find a missing preschooler.

He quickly sent his Coral Coast Helicopter Services team out to search for the girl, as his group of “world class” musterers scoured the surrounding area waiting for police to arrive.

Mr Borg’s team spent the whole day scouring the landscape, but saw nothing that shed any light on Cleo’s disappearance.

“We were just running out the block of possibilities asking ‘where do we look next?” Mr Borg told The West Australian.

“We were pretty sure she wasn’t in the area when we conducted our second search.

“When we go and search for somebody, if they are in the area you find them really quick. Especially if you are talking abnormal colours.”

Mr Borg said the Pink jumpsuit that Cleo was wearing when she disappeared would have stood out starkly against the landscape.

“We flew at a height where we were just glancing over the country side. And then when we found nothing on the broad area search, we started a more slow and thorough search,” Mr Borg said.

“We made sure we looked under every rock, every tree, and every bush with the chopper.”

The area where Cleo Smith was last seen. Supplied: WA Police
Camera IconThe area where Cleo Smith was last seen. Supplied: WA Police Credit: Supplied

It has now been seven days since Cleo was reported missing from her family’s tent.

Police believe the four-year-old was taken, with a task force set up to find her.

A spokesman for the Western Australian Police force told NCA NewsWire that officers believed Cleo was located somewhere beyond the campsite.

“They’ve searched absolutely everywhere they possibly can in that area, and they’re confident that she’s not within that area,” the spokesman said.

“It’s moved to an investigative stage, because they’ve done all the searching they can and there’s no evidence or information to suggest she’s wandered off.”

The campsite where the four-year-old vanished a week ago has reopened to the public.

Cleo was staying in a tent with her family at the coastal Blowholes Campground in Macleod, near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s north, when she was reported missing about 6am last Saturday.

After a week of searching the rugged terrain for the young girl, police confirmed it was likely she had been taken from the tent.

The tent zip had been opened higher than Cleo could have reached. Her sleeping bag was also missing.

While the search at the campsite is over, locals and holiday-makers have been urged to remain on the lookout.

Detectives have also revealed there are still witnesses from the crime scene who are yet to come forward.

Police believe there are people who were staying at the campsite who have not identified themselves.

They are urging the mystery campers to make contact.

Police are now performing a radio blitz in a desperate attempt to gather information on Cleo’s whereabouts.

A message is being broadcast across stations WA state imploring residents with any information to come forward to assist police.

“This is an urgent announcement from WA Police Force, police need your help to find Cleo Smith,” the announcement said.

“In the early hours of Saturday the 16th of October, little Cleo vanished from her tent at the Blowholes, near Carnarvon.

“Now the state government is offering $1 million reward. Can you help find her?

“The four-year-old was wearing a Pink onesie. She was wrapped in a sleeping bag. Now she‘s gone.

“Please help us find her. Any information, call Crime Stoppers.”

Police are asking anyone who was within a 1,000 kilometre radius of the Blowholes campsite to send through any dashcam and security footage they have.

Footage of motel check-in and communal areas, service stations, fast food outlets and bakeries, truck stops and camping areas, children‘s clothing stores, pharmacies and cosmetic and camping store are particularly important.

The requested footage or image should be from 6pm on Friday October 15 to 6pm on Sunday October 17.

Footage can be uploaded online or discussed with Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Cleo Smith’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon. ABC News
Camera IconCleo Smith’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon. ABC News Credit: Supplied

The police’s message comes as Cleo’s best friend Naya also issued a plea of her own.

Speaking to 7 News, Naya said she “misses (Cleo) a lot now she’s lost”.

“I want her to come back. She needs to come home because she needs to be with her family,” she said.

Naya drew a picture of Cleo and wrote in a note: “Dear Cleo, can you please come back for a little while and come to my nan’s. I miss you, I hope you are all right. Love, Naya.”

Cleo's best friend Naya. Picture: 7 News
Camera IconCleo's best friend Naya. 7 News Credit: Channel 7

A special task force of more than 100 officers has been formed to investigate Cleo’s disappearance.

Between 10 and 20 registered sex offenders live in the Carnarvon area but police said this week that there were no suspects.

Cleo’s disappearance has made headlines in countries around the world, including the UK, US, New Zealand and India.

The state government is offering a $1m reward for information that resulted in finding Cleo, or led to the arrest and conviction of whoever was involved in her disappearance.

Anyone with information is urged to call police on 131 444.

Originally published as Pilot who helped search for Cleo Smith says girl was gone from the campsite before police arrived

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