Tourist describes finding an emaciated Shelley Crooks in the bush

By Teresa Smith of the Westport News, Kurt Bayer

An English visitor has spoken about his mad dash to raise the alarm  after he found a bedraggled and emaciated Shelley Crooks on a West Coast track at the weekend. Photo / NZ Police
An English visitor has spoken about his mad dash to raise the alarm after he found a bedraggled and emaciated Shelley Crooks on a West Coast track at the weekend. Photo / NZ Police

An English visitor who encountered bedraggled, emaciated and incoherent mother-of-four Shelley Crooks on a track in the West Coast, six weeks after she was reported missing, has spoken about his mad dash to raise the alarm.

Alex Morley was enjoying a day tramp along the picturesque Fox River, near Dilemma Creek Gorge, about 6pm on Sunday, when he saw a "tall woman".

He shouted a greeting but the woman did not respond.

Morley approached the woman and saw that her outdoor clothing was discoloured, her shoes were in tatters and her toenails were ripped off. She could barely speak above a whisper.

The 44-year-old Englishman said he was aware of a woman being reported as missing in the area as he set out from Bullock Creek near Punakaiki on Sunday, intending to spend the night camped under the Ballroom Overhang at Fox River.

However, some of the rivers he forded en route were already high and he decided to head back in case they rose further.

He was heading along the north bank, looking for a good place to cross, when he noticed someone beside the river.

"I sort of waved and said 'hello' and they raised their hand and I shouted - because the river was quite loud - 'are you ok?' which is what I ask anyone I see who's walking," he told the Westport News.

Morley said he could see then there was something wrong.

"The person wasn't really in distress but weren't really responding, weren't very loud, so I got closer and could see that she seemed to be having problems with her feet.

"She was very quiet and I had to lean in close to hear what she was saying."

They shook hands and when he introduced himself, the woman replied she was Shelley.

"And it just dawned on me, is this the person they're looking for?

"I asked how long she'd been out there and when she confirmed she'd been out there for weeks.

"I said 'I think people are looking for you' and she seemed quite shocked by that."

He said Crooks was very gaunt and incoherent.

"She didn't explain in any sort of sequence what she did but I gathered she'd fallen and she'd hurt her feet, ripped her toenails off."

She had lost her food, sleeping bag and personal locator beacon and was trying to hobble out using two sticks.

Morley, a Conservation Volunteer, left her with his sleeping bag, water, and muesli bars, couscous salad and golden syrup dumplings, and told her to stay put before setting off for help.

Adrenalin then took over, he said.

"I made my way down. A combination of running, which in my state is not easy, so more like shuffling and walking.

"I knew I could get to Fox River market and I could bang on the door somewhere and say 'I need the phone'."

He got there about 7pm and raced into the carpark to raise the alarm with locals, giving precise information of her exact location.

Crooks, 36, of Opotiki, was last seen at Punakaiki on December 22. She was finally rescued on Sunday evening by the West Coast Rescue Helicopter and flown to Greymouth Hospital where she is reported to be recovering well.

Greymouth Sergeant Michel Bloom said it was a "remarkable story of survival".

"Ms Crooks set out to do a four-day walk in the Mt Bovis area when she became disorientated and sustained a leg injury," Bloom said.

"She was well equipped and has extensive bush craft knowledge, enabling her to survive for six weeks as she attempted to slowly make her way out of the bush."

Crooks was grateful for those who aided in her rescue, he said.

"She wants to express her gratitude to the tramper who found her, and everyone involved in the search and rescue efforts to try and locate her.

"Police would also like to thank everyone who helped us in our efforts to try and find her over the past six weeks. We are ecstatic this has had a positive outcome."

Cutting Edge Bushcraft's Ian Barnes says the weather that Crooks endured during her ordeal would have also made the experience even more difficult.

Barnes says her experience would have been extremely demanding as she would have tried to stay dry and light fires.

"You can last a long time without food so it's primarily if you have water and shelter you could last that long," he said.

"Food issues are quite difficult in the New Zealand bush. It's been a mild summer but not dangerous temperatures."

- NZ Herald

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