Rescuers talk of hunter's relief

By Belinda Feek, Kurt Bayer

Police said a medic was winched down to rescue the hunter, who is from Levin. Photo: Supplied
Police said a medic was winched down to rescue the hunter, who is from Levin. Photo: Supplied

A pig hunter who spent a near-frozen night in the bush wearing just gumboots, t-shirt and hoodie, was "very happy" to see his rescuers today.

Matt Whiti, AKA Gibb, went missing on the Tararua Ranges at Makihika, near Levin last night after becoming separated from his hunting mate.

Fears were raised for the 27-year-old's safety as temperatures dropped to 2C overnight as it was believed Mr Whiti wasn't prepared to stay out all night.

Search and Rescue in an Air Force NH90 helicopter scouring the area found the missing hunter about midday at the bottom of a river valley.

"We saw him standing by the stream, waving his t-shirt quite wildly to get our attention," said pilot, Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) 3 Squadron Flight Lieutenant Kane Sanson.

A medic was winched down 30m to support Mr Whiti before lifting him into the helicopter.

"He was very cold and on the verge of the onset of hypothermia," said Mr Sanson.

"He was certainly very happy to see us, with a big smile on his face when he climbed into the back of the aircraft."

Mr Whiti was flown to nearby Levin Showgrounds where he limped to an awaiting ambulance.

As he was being treated by paramedics, his family spoke of their relief that he had been found and still had his "cheeky smile".

His sister Chanelle McLean said the family had been worried all night.

"He was walking with a bit of a limp but he's still got his cheeky smile," she said.

It is understood Mr Whiti may have injured his leg and be experiencing hypothermia.

A police spokesman said the alarm was raised by his hunting companion on Tuesday when he turn up where they were had agreed to meet.

Mr Sanson said the NH90 medium utility helicopter, which replaced the Bell Helicopter UH-1 Huey helicopter, was perfectly-suited to such rescues.

A NH90 helicopter helped in the rescue of a group of 38 people, including two children, stranded overnight in a blizzard in Central Otago last week. Since they were introduced into the RNZAF in 2013, the NH90s have been used for search and rescue missions, transport for military and government personnel, and lifting of equipment while also maintaining a counter-terrorism response.

They also spent seven-weeks in Fiji earlier this year supporting a humanitarian aid operation after Tropical Cyclone Winston.

- NZ Herald

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