Australia

Australia turns to social media to help mystery amnesiac

Amnesiac woman Sam Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The woman, who speaks English and some French and goes by the name Sam, recalls memories of Australia

Everyone has an opinion about her and lots want to help, but a woman with amnesia in the US remains unidentified.

The unknown woman has taken the name Sam and is using Facebook to help track down her true identity.

Her slight Australian accent and her apparent memories of Australia have sparked social media interest.

Australian diplomats are assisting in the search for "Sam" along with many Australians who are exchanging clues about her identity.

There are more than 18,000 likes on her Facebook page, and thousands of messages of support, many from Australia.

'Dreams of Australia'

Believed to be in her 50s, Sam was reportedly found on the street by fire-fighters in the southern Californian town of Carlsbad in February.

Image copyright Supplied
Image caption Before chemotherapy treatment, Sam had white hair

In a TV interview with NBC in the US on Tuesday, she said she did not recall who she was or where she was from.

On Facebook, she said she could remember dreams of swimming at a beach in Perth, in Western Australia, as well as in the Australian holiday spots of Cairns and Byron Bay, and Hawaii. She also speaks French.

NBC said she had a "thick" Australian accent, but many Facebook users disagreed.

Jaymi Sheppard from Western Australia, said Sam sounded more English than Australian, while Annette Smith from Melbourne postulated that Sam could be from the Pacific Islands, perhaps New Caledonia or French Polynesia.

"Her memories of Australia sound touristy but if she's from the islands would explain her accent and speaking French and a few other details," Ms Smith wrote on Sam's Facebook page.

Image copyright other

One Sydney speech scientist said clues to Sam's identity might be found in her "hybrid" accent.

"Some features of her accent are characteristic of Australian English but there are others that are not," Macquarie University's Prof Felicity Cox told Nine News.

Prof Cox suggested the way Sam spoke the phrases "dreaming about Australia" and "my family immediately says" registered a typical Australian English pattern but she pronounced "got" different to an Australian.

"The vowel she uses is more of an American sound, a 'guh' rather than 'goh'," she said.

'Thick fog'

Some, like Lesley Newbound, suggested Sam's smallpox vaccination scar could indicate she had migrated from England to Australia as a child.

Others have even suggested names, with one naming a woman called Debbie, an Australian travel specialist who recently relocated from South Africa to the UK, as the possible real Sam.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Interpol has issued an "Identity Unknown" alert for Sam

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) told the BBC it had been providing consular assistance in the case since March.

According to her Facebook page, doctors have told Sam her that a large tumour may have erased her memories.

After she was taken to hospital in California, she was rushed to the emergency room, where staff apparently discovered she was suffering from ovarian cancer.

In her television interview, Sam said she couldn't remember anything. "There is this thick fog over my memory, that's over my brain, that I can't see through," she told NBC.

Interpol has added her to its international missing person database. It describes her as 1.7m (5ft 6) tall and weighing 91kg (200lbs). Her hair, before she lost it to chemotherapy, was white, her eyes are brown and she has a chip on one of her front teeth.

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