Lost walker knew she would survive

By Tanya Wood -
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Jennie Fon and Ben show no outward signs of their ordeal after being lost overnight in Foxton Beach forest but Mrs Fon said a week later the shock set in and she's still feeling the effects.
Jennie Fon and Ben show no outward signs of their ordeal after being lost overnight in Foxton Beach forest but Mrs Fon said a week later the shock set in and she's still feeling the effects.

A Foxton woman who found herself lost in Foxton Beach forest overnight earlier this month is now feeling the shock kick in, but says she's faced worse and knew she would survive.

Jennie Fon, 58, was walking a friend's dog in the forest, a place she had walked many times before with her own dogs.

Mrs Fon and Ben, a six-year-old black Labrador cross rehomed dog, entered the forest off Cousins Ave late afternoon, planning to have an hour's walk.

She said they crossed into an area where the trees were more spaced out and - to avoid a stray dog, uncertain how Ben would react - must have veered off their intended course.

By about 4.30pm, and getting noticeably darker, Mrs Fon realised she was disoriented.

"Things looked familiar going in. I can't understand why it didn't look familiar when I turned round to go back.

"Normally the paths are clearly marked but there have been issues between walkers and trail bikers, and paths have been covered over with leaf matter and even branches in some places. That's serious; I could have found my way out otherwise. There were also no arrows on any trees that I could see."

After clambering around for a while, realising she was not getting anywhere, the panic set in and she rang the police.

"I don't normally take my phone because there is usually no reception in the forest but thank God I did this time because you can still make emergency calls."

She had to ring a few times as reception kept cutting out but was able to confirm to police the rough direction she had taken. Police said they would send someone.

"About 15 minutes, later I got a text from my friend asking if I was alright and had to message back 'no' and that I was 'somewhat lost'. If I had had my two dogs with me, they would have found the way out no problem but Ben doesn't know the forest."

Mrs Fon was wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket, but had no water or food, just dog treats which she fed to Ben throughout the night.

"I was hoping against hope the police would find me soon but time wasn't on my side with it getting dark. I tried ringing them back a few times and was told 'we'll do our very best to find you, just stay put'."

As it got pitch dark, Mrs Fon tried to hunker down and keep warm using pine needles as a buffer against the wet ground.

"Ben was freaking out and in the end I had to wrap his lead around my foot to stop him wrapping himself around trees and branches. He was whimpering and shivering and I was trying to get him to cuddle but he kept pulling away."

She managed to curl up and sleep for a bit but woke up with cramp from the cold.

"I'm not sure of time frames but I did hear a helicopter make a couple of passes and come quite close at one point. I took off my white camisole top to wave but it wasn't spotted. I thought that's it, everyone's given up."

Around 3am Mrs Fon heard whistles and thought it was just some "drunk idiot".

It was the police with about 40 people and a dog out doing a grid search of the forest but she and Ben were not spotted.

"I just told myself it will be okay, I'll get out of this, just sit still."

When it got lighter, Mrs Fon and Ben started walking and eventually hit the sand dune grass, finding their way onto the beach about 7.30am.

Seconds later a vehicle was hurtling towards her. The driver jumped out and asked "Are you Jennie?".

Mrs Fon was taken to the Foxton Surf Life Saving Club before being transferred to the fire station in Dawick St where a very relieved husband and brother were waiting, and a hot cuppa and pie.

"I was overwhelmed that so many people had been out looking for me and feel so humbled. The police rang Alan [husband] every hour to keep him updated. I can't say enough about the police or the search and rescue guys. They need to know they are very much appreciated."

Ben was no worse for wear and Mrs Fon was given the all clear by a doctor and told to go home and rest for three days.

"Life went back to normal but I was exhausted and that feeling of tiredness wouldn't go away. It was a week later when the shock really kicked in. I dissolved into tears for no apparent reason and was told by my doctor to get counselling."

After just one counselling session Mrs Fon said she feels in a better place and is hoping to go back into the forest when she feels ready.

"I love that forest and I intend to go back in. My brother will come with me and we will walk the same route and find our way out properly. It will be a good way to deal with what happened.

"My parents both died within days of each other two years ago and I really felt them there with me that night. I've been through a lot worse than this. I knew I was going to survive it."

In the meantime, dog walks are down at the beach.

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