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Fears grow for runner missing in dense Australian bushland for six days

By Chris Lau, CNN

(CNN) — Australian police are combing a large swathe of bushland in the state of Victoria for a woman who has been missing without a trace since going for a run six days ago.

Samantha Murphy left her Ballarat home for a run in the Woowookarung Regional Park at 7am on Sunday, according to Victorian police.

Her family raised the alarm when the 51-year-old mother failed to return, and no sign of her or her belongings have been found despite an extensive search by police and community members.

Detectives from the Missing Persons Squad took control of the operation on Friday, coordinating local police, search and rescue services, police dogs and mounted officers who are scouring the area.

“I want to be clear that at this time, we have nothing immediate to indicate there is anything sinister behind Samantha’s disappearance,” detective acting superintendent Mark Hatt said on Friday.

But high temperatures over recent days – sometimes reaching 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) – and the length of time she’s been missing have fueled concerns for her safety.

Hatt confirmed that Murphy had her phone with her and that police had been working with communication technicians throughout the investigation.

Murphy was last seen wearing black half-length leggings and a maroon singlet, according to Victoria Police, who have circulated an image of her taken by the family’s security cameras on Sunday.

Her daughter, Jess, made an emotional plea on Thursday, saying how much she wants her mother to “come home soon” and can’t wait to give her “the biggest hug.”

“I know she’s out there somewhere, so if you could please continue to search for her to give us something to work with,” she said.

Woowookarung Regional Park spans 641 hectares, about twice the size of the Central Park in New York City and is popular among local joggers and cyclists for its scenic trails.

Inspector Bob Heaney said the terrain involved in the search had been “challenging,” with many unused mines, waterways and thick scrub.

On Wednesday, police released closed circuit television footage believed to have shown Murphy running past a gate, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.

But a local resident later came forward to identify herself in the footage, dashing hopes for a potential lead, the news network said.

A Facebook group called Find Samantha Murphy has been created with almost 14,000 followers as of Friday. Users discussed the search operation and shared their good wishes.

Speaking alongside his daughter on Thursday, her husband, Michael, urged local residents to report every “little thing” they find relevant.

“It’ll give us a bit of peace of mind if we get some hope,” he said.

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