A Te Aroha man who survived three nights lost in the bush considers himself "bloody lucky" to be alive. Sam Olley finds out how a sleeping bag, a can of baked beans and the hope of homemade burgers kept him going.
Liam Mcpherson, 28, doubts he would have survived another night in the Kaimai Range.
He was found on the Waipapa Track by two cyclists just hours before wind and rain rolled in on Saturday evening.
Police, Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) and canyon rescue teams searched for more than 1780 hours collectively after Mcpherson was reported missing last Thursday.
On Wednesday, he planned to walk for up to an hour at nearby Mt Te Aroha, as permitted under Covid-19 alert level 3.
"I just went for a small walk, I thought I was on my way back down again but I ended up going toward Waihī/Katikati without realising. It became dark and my phone went dead."
He now knows he should have stayed put, but "when you hit the panic button and you've got no phone, home is all you can think about", he said.
Mcpherson slept in the bush on Wednesday night.
The next day he found a hut and made the most of a sleeping bag and baked beans left inside.
On Friday, he took the sleeping bag and walked downhill to the Waipapa Track towards home.
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He sprawled himself across the track to be visible but could move no further, exhausted.
That's where he was found by two mountain bikers on Saturday afternoon.
"I am just bloody lucky to still be alive," Mcpherson told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"On the last day, I just couldn't walk. My body was just drained from three days not eating. I was drinking out of a creek.
"If the bikers didn't find me at that time, I probably would be dead. I just heard noise and bounced up.
"They slammed the brakes on and said: 'Are you alright mate? Are you Liam Mcpherson?' I was in shock."
One of the bikers ran uphill to get phone signal and called the police.
They stayed with Mcpherson until help arrived and he was flown to Waikato Hospital, cold and hungry but otherwise well.
His friends who joined the search have complained about their "sore legs" since, but are relieved to have him back.
"We hugged ... I was in tears. I cried and cried and cried when I saw them."
Rescuers have since told Mcpherson he would have ended up dead had he been in the bush for another night.
"They said: 'We'd probably be taking a body out.'
"I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who helped me ... I want to put a nice morning tea on or something and catch up," Mcpherson said.
His ordeal made him "grateful for so many people", especially his friends and family who waited at the bottom of the mountain.
"They can't believe I am still alive."
Mcpherson has been having flashbacks and trouble sleeping but is now well-fed.
He was meant to have homemade burgers for dinner the night he went missing and thought about them often in the following days.
"When I got discharged out of hospital that Saturday night we had homemade hamburgers ... Oh, it was lovely."
Acting Eastern Waikato Area Commander Matt Cranshaw said Mcpherson's rescue was "a great result".
"We were rapt he was found alive ... There is a lot of planning involved, fundraising and training and a lot of volunteer work that goes on so we can do searches like this."
LandSAR chief executive Carl McOnie said "we should all be proud" of the volunteers who helped from Te Aroha, Paeroa, Waihī, Thames, Kuaotunu, Hamilton, Tairua/Pauanui and the canyon rescue team.
"This is why we leave our bubble - get up and leave our friends and families - to assist the lost, missing and injured."
A spokesperson for Mcpherson's wider family said they were "absolutely so grateful that he was safe and alive".
"We will be eternally grateful for all of the rescuers and we will never forget their efforts."