Tauranga tramper falls to death

By John Cousins

A popular Tauranga tramper tumbled to his death after losing his footing a short distance from a hut in the Waioeka Conservation Area near Opotiki.

Russell Brown, 75, was with members of the Pack N Boots Tramping Group on a one-day tramp to the Nikau Flats Hut when tragedy struck at 12.15pm. He fell 20 metres and died after his head struck a rock about two-thirds of the way down a ravine which ended at the Waioeka River.

His death has stunned Tauranga's tramping fraternity, with club spokeswoman Moya Hewson unable to recall any other fatal accident involving a city tramper.

"Everyone is devastated. We can't believe it - it's like losing a brother."

It should have been a relatively easy one-day tramp to the hut for lunch, before the 11-member party retraced its steps back to the road.

Instead distressed group members were flown back to their cars by Gisborne-based Eastland Rescue Helicopter while a second Whakatane-based helicopter, commissioned by the police, lifted out Mr Brown's body.

The rescue helicopter was given pin-point coordinates to the scene of the accident after the trampers' emergency beacon was picked up by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Mr Brown described his huge love of tramping to the Bay of Plenty Times last year. He said that manoeuvring through dense bush and over rocks with a massive pack on your back for days may sound exhausting, but there was nothing like it.

Rescue helicopter pilot Neil Dodds said he left Gisborne about 1pm and was over the emergency beacon 34 minutes later.

He settled the helicopter at the bottom of a "tight little canyon", about 200m from the hut and 50m below the rock that ended Mr Brown's life. He then transported the tramping group members back to their cars in two trips.

Mr Dodds said the trampers were quite elderly and a bit stressed, and gladly took up the offer to be flown out. "They were not in a happy frame of mind and did not want to be where they were."

The police-contracted helicopter, with a paramedic on board, lifted out Mr Brown's body about 6.30pm.

Mr Dodds said Saturday's mission highlighted the importance of carrying an emergency beacon.

Mr Brown, described as "buck fit", had been a very active club member and organised a series of major tramps to the South Island and Stewart Island.

The tramp to Nikau Hut was originally planned as one of several over the weekend. Mr Brown was towards the rear of the tramping party when the accident happened. Some had already reached the hut.

A coroner's inquest will be held into his death. Mr Brown is also survived by son John, in Perth, and three grandchildren.

Read more in today's Bay of Plenty Times

- Bay of Plenty Times

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