Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Pig hunter's upside down bush ordeal

A lost pig hunter who spent a night freezing in the bush knocked himself unconscious after falling and becoming snagged by his foot.

As he fell 6m down a steep bank in the darkness, Matt Gibb hoped for a soft landing. Instead, the 27-year-old smashed his head on rocks and suffered a concussion.

Only a few hours before Mr Gibb had been on a day walk in the Tararua Ranges at Makihika, near Levin, on Tuesday when he became separated from a hunting companion.

Desperately he tried calling to and whistling for his friend but as night fell Mr Gibb realised he was alone in the bush, with no food or water, no mobile phone and clad only in jeans, a T-shirt, hoodie and gumboots.

The experienced hunter followed the sound of river water but in the darkness he stepped into a hidden waterfall. "I couldn't see where I was going. My foot slipped out and I fell about five metres, smacked my back and hit my tail bone."

The fall winded him but he put the pain out of his mind and heaved himself up. Hugging the river bank and with no light he managed to get some distance further before falling again, this time down another waterfall.

"My foot got caught in between some rocks, that's what saved me. I was hanging upside down in a shallow puddle and smacked my head and knocked myself out."

When Mr Gibb came round he was suspended upside down, saturated from the waterfall and groggy.

"I screamed in pain. I thought my knee was dislocated. My shin should be broken, but I've got strong bones."

Mr Gibb dragged himself up the gully and tried to make a fire but the lighter broke. He tried to get as much of the cold water off his body as possible, wringing out his socks and taking off his jeans, leaving them as a clue for rescuers.

Sitting on a bank he heard a helicopter searching and tried to reach a clearing but fell again, this time getting caught in vines. Disoriented and with his hopes fading, Mr Gibb found a small cave-like hole which he crawled into, elevating his leg and covering it with a vest.

He dozed fitfully as the temperature fell to -2C, whistling and calling out from time to time.

Mr Gibb said thoughts of his 2-year-old son and the children of his deceased partner kept him going as hypothermia set in.

As day broke the nightmare continued - he realised the cave he had sheltered in was perched on the edge of a steep cliff. "I was scared."

He limped away from the cliff and over a ridge in the hopes of finding the car. "Then I just parked up and had a little cry." Mr Gibb prayed to his former partner, who died in November, for help, asking her to send the helicopter again. He fell asleep and when he woke began walking again.

Suddenly he heard the helicopter fly over him, again and again as he waved his gumboot in the air.

"I'd just managed to get into a clearing. I was panicking, thinking they hadn't seen me. Then next minute they were flying directly towards me hovering, the rescuer was giving me the thumbs [up]."

A relieved Mr Gibb was assessed by a medic before being winched on the Air Force NH90 helicopter and flown to Palmerston North where he was admitted to hospital for the night.

He suffered mild hypothermia, dehydration, concussion, a bruised kneecap and cuts and bruises.

Mr Gibb's worried family, including his parents and sister, greeted him when the chopper landed.

The first thing he asked his sister, Chanelle McLean, for was "a ciggie".

"My Dad popped his head into the ambulance and said ' I told you you shouldn't have gone hunting this weekend'."

Mr Gibb said his ordeal had not put him off the bush, though a text from his friend to go hunting again this weekend was a bit too soon.

His advice to other hunters was to "expect the unexpected", and take survival gear and a tracker.

- NZ Herald

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