Tramper dies near Opotiki

By John Cousins

A popular Tauranga tramper tumbled to his death after losing his footing a short distance from a hut in the Waioeka Conservation Area near Opotiki.

Russell Brown, 75, was with members of the Pack N Boots Tramping Club, on a one-day tramp to the Nikau Flats Hut, when tragedy struck at 12.15pm on Saturday.

He fell 20m and died after his head struck a rock about two-thirds of the way down a ravine which ended at the Waioeka River.

Mr Brown's death has stunned Tauranga's tramping fraternity, with club spokeswoman Moya Hewson unable to recall any other fatal accident involving a city tramper.

"Everyone is devastated. We can't believe it - it's like losing a brother."

It should have been a relatively easy one-day tramp to the hut for lunch, before the 11-member party retraced its steps back to the road.

Instead distressed club members were flown back to their cars by Gisborne-based Eastland Rescue Helicopter while a second Whakatane-based helicopter, commissioned by the police, lifted out Mr Brown's body.

The rescue helicopter was given co-ordinates after the trampers' emergency beacon was picked up by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Mr Brown described his huge love of tramping to media last year. He said manoeuvring through dense bush and over rocks with a massive pack on your back for days may sound exhausting, but there was nothing like it.

"It's hard, it's hilly and then you get to the hut and soak up the fire and put your meal on ... you think you have died and gone to heaven."

Mr Brown got the tramping bug when he retired to Hahei in the Coromandel and later became a stalwart of Tauranga's Pack N Boots Club after he and wife, Iris, shifted to Tauranga 13 years ago.

Rescue helicopter pilot Neil Dodds said he settled the helicopter at the bottom of a "tight little canyon", about 200m from the hut and 50m below the rock that ended Mr Brown's life. He then transported the tramping club members back to their cars in two trips that took until 2.45pm. Mr Dodds said the trampers were quite elderly and a bit stressed, and gladly took up the offer to be flown out.

"They were not in a happy frame of mind and did not want to be where they were."

The police-contracted helicopter with a paramedic on board lifted out Mr Brown's body about 6.30pm.

Mr Dodds said Saturday's mission highlighted the importance of carrying an emergency beacon.

The tramp to Nikau Hut was originally planned as one of several over the weekend. Mr Brown was ' towards the rear of the party when the accident happened. Some had already reached the hut.

A coroner's inquest will be held into his death.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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