THE clock started ticking for Jayden Penno-Tompsett the moment he walked off into the scorching heat outside the remote Far North Queensland town of Charters Towers.
Coming down off drugs, he was disorientated and hadn't slept in days.
It didn't take long before he was alone.
Within minutes the first effects of dehydration would begin to take hold.
Within hours his body would start shuttng down and police believe before he was even reported missing, he was most probably dead.
What began as a 2300km road trip to Cairns for New Year's Eve, the chance for some mates from Newcastle to get away and blow off some steam, had within 48 hours descended into hell.
A domino effect of missed opportunities and misunderstandings that left Jayden stranded in the scorching heat to die.
It is a haunting image of Jayden alone, without any water, as his travelling companion Lucas Tattersall, unable to locate him after searching for hours following an argument over lost drugs, drives away.
On Friday, Queensland Coroner Nerida Wilson handed down her findings into the mystery disappearance of Jayden, then 22, on December 31, 2017.
Despite an exhaustive search by police and SES, and three-year hunt by Jayden's mother Rachel Penno, no trace has ever been found of him.
At odds with the family's view that foul play was involved, Coroner Wilson ruled Jayden died of exposure to the elements after he went missing on December 31, 2017, in the Breddan district at Charters Towers.
"There is no evidence that Jayden is deceased," Ms Wilson said.
"I accept that this is an entirely circumstantial case. However, based on all the evidence I find that Jayden is not alive.
"I find on the totality of the evidence before me, it is more probable than not, and at the highest end of the scale, that Jayden Penno-Tompsett died as a result of exposure to the elements."
Outside court, Jayden's family said they were "unhappy and disappointed" with the outcome.
They wanted more time for the court to investigate the case and believe there was important evidence not explored and witnesses not called.
In her evidence, Jayden's mother Rachel Penno raised concern that there was 16 seconds of CCTV footage missing from the vision police secured from the Puma Roadhouse, which was the last known images of Jayden.
This she would like further investigated.
Ms Penno said she could not reconcile the fact that her son simply vanished into thin air.
She still maintains that foul play was involved and said she would continue her search for the truth.
"Why has nothing ever been found," she said.
The family also expressed concern about the evidence given by the last person to see Jayden alive, Mr Tattersall.
The court heard throughout the inquest that Mr Tattersall's evidence was riddled with inconsistencies, but Ms Wilson said she attributed the anomalies to sleep deprivation, drug use and stress.
Ms Wilson found there was no evidence of foul play and said the late missing person's report, made three days after Jayden was last seen, "seriously disadvantaged police".
She said Jayden's friends were discouraged to report him missing to police because they knew he was carrying drugs and mistakenly thought he had a warrant out for his arrest in NSW.
"Jayden had conveyed to members of his friendship group, the belief that he was wanted on the warrant, that information impacted their later decision making and they delayed reporting Jayden missing," she said.
The court heard the Newcastle men, who were waiting for Jayden to arrive in Cairns, had no idea where he went missing.
"The misunderstanding that Jayden walked of in an urban location with access to the same ammenities as Newcastle led his friends into error," Ms Wilson said.
"The picture in their mind in Cairns while absorbing the information relayed to them by Lucas in Charters Towers, and the options they thought open to Jayden to travel, or to pop up as one witness hoped, was very different to the reality."
Ms Wilson said when Jayden went missing in the "dry and harsh terrain" he was suffering the "extreme effects of coming off a bender".
He hadn't slept for at least four days, was agitated and described by Mr Tattersall as becoming increaingly paranoid.
"He was in a very bad way," she said.
Jayden had smoked a large quanitity of ice in the 38 hours it took the men to drive from Newcastle to Charters Towers, possibly as much as 3.6 grams.
The only available version of what happened before Jayden went missing came from Mr Tattersall, and "on the whole I accept his evidence", Ms Wilson said.
"There is no evidence at all that Lucas Tattersall harmed Jayden," she said.
Mr Tattersall told the inquest that in the hours before the disappearance, Jayden got out of the car and lost a large bag of methamphetamines, or ice, that he had bought on credit and the pair were driving frantically around Charters Towers for five or six hours trying to find it.
"Lucas describes Jayden becoming distressed at the possibility that he had dropped his ice stash or lost it..." Ms Wilson said.
"And the evidence is that he remained in a heightened, if not frenzied, state for several hours thereafter."
According to Mr Tattersall, Jayden said: "You don't know what these people are going to do to me for losing all these drugs."
"I absolutely accept that his anxiety and stress about the loss of the drugs was real," Ms Wilson said.
The court heard that Ms Penno had long held the belief that Jayden's disappearance could be linked to drug debts.
"The drugs were purchased on tick and by then Jayden owed people money," Ms Wilson said.
"His mother said in evidence she has always been concerned his disappearance might be attributed to some type of retaliation or retribution for non-payment of drugs."
The stash of ice that Jayden lost and the MDMA powder he was carrying has never been recovered.
By the time the men pulled up off Stockroute Road, outside Charters Towers, both men were "off their heads with anger, frustration and fatigue".
They got into an argument before Mr Tattersall said Jayden grabbed the bag of MDMA powder, smashed his phone on the dirt road and stormed off.
It is the last time he was seen, about 50m from the car, walking towards a fenced paddock.
"I accept the ultimate submission of counsel assisting the inquest, that the issue of any moral failing on the part of Lucas Tattersall not to remain in the location where Jayden was last seen or report to the police earlier is a different matter entirely to whether or not he bought about Jayden's demise," Ms Wilson said.
The coroner praised the police investigation that she described as thorough and meticulous.
Ms Penno said the family came to get closure, but would continue their fight for justice for her son.
Described by the coroner as a "fierce advocate" for Jayden, Ms Penno said she did not accept that foul play was not involved in the disappearance.
"There are no words to convey the deepest and most sincerest condolences for your devastating loss," Ms Wilson said to Jayden's family.
The family has been pushing for a reward in an effort to open new avenues for investigation and Ms Wilson said she would forward the request on for review to the Queensland Police rewards evaluation committee.
A devastated Ms Penno said she would keep searching until she knew what happened to her son.
"I know there is more to it," she said.
"Hopefully if we do get a reward...hopefully we'll get more information to help push to have this further investigated.
"It's still an open investiagtion, so I'm hopeful that more will come out.
"There are something that weren't looked into, information I have forwarded that wasn't investigated and I'm hoping to have that further looked at."
The family said Jayden was much loved by many people and "so much more" than the sum of his last two days that were the focus of the inquest.
"He was just a good human, a beautiful kid," Ms Penno said.
"There was a lot more to him, he wasn't just a drug user."
Ms Penno said her son was would never have left anyone behind.
"He would have been still up there looking," she said. "That's the type of person he was."
The police investigation remains open.
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