SAR teams support trapped tramper with survival kit as bad weather delays rescue

A survival kit dropped to a tramper in snowy conditions played a key role in keeping him alive through freezing conditions before rescuers could reach him.

The tramper, a Danish national, was in the Two Thumbs Range, North West of Tekapo. He initially contacted police for assistance by way of a broken 111 call, after heavy snow closed in around him late in the afternoon of Wednesday, 26 July. Through the call, police were only about to get an approximate location for the tramper. He later activated his personal locator beacon which provided an accurate GPS location.

Maritime NZ’s RCCNZ coordinated the response, after receiving the beacon activation. With darkness setting in, RCCNZ tasked a night-vision and winch-equipped Garden City Helicopter from Christchurch to assist the man. The helicopter got overhead of the tramper, but two winch attempts to lower a medic failed due to the new snow recirculation and limited definition on the night vision devices.

“There was about a metre and a half of snow in the area. The rotors of the helicopters were forcing it up, meaning they were unable to safely land in the area,” Manager, RCCNZ and Safety Systems Justin Allan says.

The situation was then reviewed and it was decided rescuers were unable to extract the man that day. Conversations then took place about how to best support him through the night.

Our search and rescue officers got in touch with the team at Southern Lakes Helicopter and the Department of Conservation’s Aoraki Search & Rescue Team to look at options to support the response.

“While the man was reasonably well prepared for the conditions, a decision was made to supply him a survival bag containing a tent, radio, light, sleeping bag and extra clothing to help him manage in the freezing temperatures,” Allan says.

Aoraki Search & Rescue Team Leader, Dave Lewis says it was important to get the tramper the resources he needed in trying conditions.

“Temperatures were exceptionally cold, with a lot of snow around. There was also an incoming storm setting in for the night. Ensuring he had extra equipment played a crucial role in him surviving the night,” he says.

RCCNZ maintained contact with the tramper overnight to ensure he was coping with the conditions. The tramper was airlifted back to Tekapo on Thursday 27 July at about 11 am.

Tramping in snowy conditions? Think before you go

Justin Allan says anyone planning on heading out in this sort of weather needs to understand the conditions and reflect on them against their capabilities.

“In locations with significant snow, we recommend trampers check out the advice the Mountain Safety Council has developed,” he says.

“From RCCNZ we want to thank the on-the-ground teams who worked tirelessly in trying conditions to ensure the tramper had the supplies he needed to last the night, and then got him safely to Tekapo” Justin Allan says.


Mountain Safety Council’s advice on avalanche safety

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