‘Blown by the feet’: Trampers rescued after seven-hour search and rescue operation in extreme weather

Jumbo Hut in Wararua Mount Holsdworth Forest Park. Photo/DOC, Joe Hansen

A couple rescued from Mount Holdsworth in Wairarapa on Saturday night would likely have suffered from hypothermia had they not been found in the dark, police say.

The couple had planned a gentle walk from Holdsworth Rd to Atiwhakatu Hut and Jumbo Hut for the night.

However, they took a wrong turn which took them onto the East Holdsworth track and close to the ridgeline.

After the couple realized their mistake, they attempted to reroute to Powell Hut, but faced extreme weather conditions and were “blown multiple times”.

At around 4:15 p.m., the couple hunkered down and called the police. They were lucky to have a cell phone and to be within cell phone coverage area for the call to go through.

They had huddled together for several hours in the cold under increasingly difficult weather conditions.

The couple were eventually rescued from the mountain ridgeline seven hours after the initial alarm sounded.

Acting Wairarapa Sergeant Richard Butler said a three-member LandSAR team was able to locate the couple around 11 p.m. and managed to get them to Powell Hut where they spent the night before escorting them back to safely to the road Sunday morning.

“A helicopter was considered, but high winds prevented its deployment.

“The couple were blessed with phone coverage, but people should never rely solely on cellphones as a means of communication.

“A quality personal locator beacon (PLB) can be purchased for less than $500 and will last up to 10 years, or $50 per year to potentially save your life. Alternatively, you can hire them from various trusts for the price of a can of beer. .

Mt Holdsworth - Jumbo Circuit in Wararua Forest Park, Mount Holsdworth.  Photo/DOC, Jack Mace
Mt Holdsworth – Jumbo Circuit in Wararua Forest Park, Mount Holsdworth. Photo/DOC, Jack Mace

“A distress beacon lets you instantly signal for help and they work almost anywhere in the world.

“The beacon tells rescuers your approximate location, eliminating the ‘finding’ of search and rescue.

“The sooner rescuers can help you, the more likely you are to survive.”

Butler encouraged trampers to always be prepared and pack enough clothes and gear for an unplanned overnight stay.

“Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand works 24/7, 365 days a year to respond to all distress beacon activations.

“The team is moving quickly to find out as many details as possible about who triggered the distress beacon and quickly dispatching search and rescue teams to help in the event of an alert.

“People heading to the mountains should seek information from Department of Conversation (DOC) visitor centers or through the DOC website.

“It can give you detailed information about weather forecasts, track issues and conditions.”

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