Hiker who survived bush ordeal 'ran to keep warm'

By Abby Gillies

Ronnie Fong was found last night after a search-and-rescue operation. File photo / Supplied
Ronnie Fong was found last night after a search-and-rescue operation. File photo / Supplied

The tramper who spent three nights in the Hunua Ranges is recovering at home after his ordeal and has shared some details of his survival.

After four days, dogs and searchers found Ronnie Fong, 39, cold and hungry but otherwise well in the southern part of the ranges last night.

Today he was recovering at home surrounded by family, who said he had spoken briefly about his time in the bush.

"During the times it was cold he would he would just run to keep himself warm,'' said his sister Margaret Kumar.

"He couldn't say much because I think he was really tired. He just wanted to have a sleep and come home.

"He will tell us what happened.''

When he came out of the bush, her brother was struggling to walk and the skin on his feet was fragile as they had been wet most of the time.

He had lost weight and suffered cuts to his legs and hands, but was otherwise uninjured, she said.

After he was taken out of the bush and reunited with family, his first meal was six oranges.

Doctors had warned him not to eat too much because his stomach had shrunk and "he just wanted something sweet''.

His family was relieved to have him back.

"We're happy that he came home safely,'' said his father Ram Kumar.

Mr Fong, an experienced tramper, set out for a four-hour walk from Hunua Falls on Saturday morning and was due to be picked up at 3pm.

The bio-engineer at Middlemore Hospital was wearing only a T-shirt, lightweight jacket and three-quarter length shorts. He was carrying a backpack with a bottle of water, Powerade and a box of Nutri-Grain.

At 3.30pm he texted his younger brother, saying "Gonna be late so don't call SAR (Search and Rescue)''.

Following his instructions, family members waited until after 9pm to return to the arranged meeting point, but when he still wasn't returning calls two hours later, they alerted authorities.

By yesterday afternoon the family were "starting to crack'' when a large-scale rescue effort had still found no sign of him.

Mr Fong's ordeal was a reminder to outdoor enthusiasts to leave written information about where they are going, when they are due to return and to take emergency communication such as a locator beacon, said Mountain Safety Council chief executive Darryl Carpenter.

He praised Mr Fong for texting his family when he was delayed and having a pre-arranged pick-up point, but said it would have helped rescuers to have written details of his trip intentions, which could help narrow down search areas.

"We want more people to get into the outdoors and we want them to plan and prepare so they come back safely,' added Mr Carpenter.

He urged people to follow five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code: plan your trip thoroughly, tell someone your plans and when to raise the alarm, be aware of weather conditions, know your limits and take enough supplies including food, clothing and emergency equipment.

Walkers, trampers, hunters and climbers can go to www.adventuresmart.org.nz for tips, information and resources about outdoor safety.

- APNZ

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