Wellington runner Alastair Shelton survived two cold and rainswept days lost in the Tararua Ranges and says at his lowest ebb he feared he would die in the mountains.
The 33-year-old runner, who was yesterday speaking at the Wairarapa LandSAR base at Hood Aerodrome after his rescue, had failed to return on Saturday morning after becoming disoriented while on a more than 20-kilometre run of the Mt Holdsworth Jumbo Circuit Track.
A rescue team of about 95 searchers and three helicopters, including two Carterton-based Amalgamated Helicopter machines and a military Iroquois, had their efforts rewarded about 10.30am yesterday when Wairarapa chopper pilot Jarod Angland found and transported the father-of-two from Mt Isabelle.
Mr Shelton was reunited with wife, Juliane Jutz, and his daughters Clara, 11 months, and Luisa, 3, at Hood Aerodrome yesterday morning. Also at the base were his brother Dougal, sister Harriet and father Roger Shelton, and mother Rachel McCahon.
The family thanked police and search volunteers.
Mr Shelton's father said he was relieved beyond words after battling fears during the weekend that his youngest son was doomed.
Mr Shelton promised his wife, at her insistence, he would abandon lone mountain running and their reunion was sealed, amid tears of relief, when their children were brought to the base about 10 minutes later.
Mr Shelton said he broke his toe only hours after losing his way on Saturday before surviving the night huddled under a boulder in pouring rain, when temperatures hovered only a few degrees above zero. He had used his map the next morning and followed the Waiohine River in hopes "it would take me where I needed to go".
His lowest point came on Sunday afternoon while making his way to the Mid Waiohine Hut amidst torrential rain and high winds that thwarted search crews and grounded the helicopters. The shelter, and any provisions at the hut, would be his last chance at making it out of the ranges alive, he said.
"Yeah, I thought I might die. I thought this could be that serious," Mr Shelton said.
"That was about 2pm on Sunday afternoon. It was raining really heavily and I couldn't find the hut. I was only half a kilometre away in the bush and the rain.
"Just everywhere there was cloud hanging down and rain teeming down and you couldn't see more than a few metres in any direction in the bush.
"I was talking to myself. Just telling myself to keep going and keep following this river. Keep moving. I'm not a religious person, but there might have been a prayer even. I'd tried everything else at that point."
He said that about two hours later he found the hut, where he wolfed down a jar of peanut butter and instant soup. He spent the night dry and relatively warm and penned a note to searchers telling of his route and destination when he left yesterday.
He said his children were never far from his mind throughout the ordeal and helped keep him determined and confident despite his plight.
"I was thinking of my children all the time, all the time. The thought of them and not coming back for them was unthinkable."