Search delay 'could have proved fatal'

By Dee Wilson

The co-ordinator of this week's search for Turangi grandmother Lucy Soloman, who spent three days and three nights lost in the Kaimanawa Forest Park, says the two-day delay in alerting police that she was missing could have cost her her life.

Search co-ordinator Senior Constable Barry Shepherd said a lot of worry, time and taxpayer expense could have been saved if the basic rule of "stay, stop and wait" had been followed and her companion had raised the alarm as soon as he realised she was missing.

"She was extremely lucky she didn't die of hypothermia ," he said.

The 62-year-old became lost in the park near Turangi around 5pm last Saturday afternoon, while heading back to a camp site after separating from her companion when he went hunting.

Mr Shepherd said she and her companion both had cell phones that were in range and working when she first went missing. She was also equipped with a torch and a lighter. Her companion spent all day on Sunday exchanging texts with her and searching himself - firing off shots to let her know where he was - before alerting police on Monday.

"She apparently could hear him letting off shots on Sunday but he kept moving and she kept moving.

"If we had been notified on Saturday night we could have had a helicopter out with night vision equipment when she was still in the cellphone coverage area and we could have contacted her and it is likely that they would have seen her torch."

Instead the "inexperienced, ill-equipped" grandmother and her companion's dog spent the next three days lost in dense rugged country without food.

Mr Shepherd said when she was finally located by searchers on Tuesday she was not in good shape.

"She was absolutely shattered - battered, bruised and scratched - and away with the fairies and the dog was utterly exhausted as well."

Mr Shepherd said search and rescuers did a "fine job" locating her after finding footprints and dog prints. Although she had probably travelled around 10km she was only two to three kilometres from the campsite when she was found.

"She had made her predicament much worse by heading south up into the hills initially before she headed down river and was still in the gorge."

He said it was unlikely she would ever have been able to make her own way out. After her rescue, the woman was treated at Taupo Hospital and discharged.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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