An experienced tramper with decades of experience in the Tararua Range believes there is still a chance that a man missing in the bush since late last week could be found alive, writes Paul Williams.
Darren Myers, 49, set out alone last week to cross the Tararua Range from Levin to Mt Holdsworth in the Wairarapa. He was expected out on Saturday, but never arrived.
Levin-Waiopehu Tramping Club officer Noel Bigwood, who was a search and rescue volunteer with 42 years experience in the Tararua Range, said it was possible the missing Wellington man had hunkered down and was waiting for a break in the weather.
Bigwood, who was deep in the Tararua Range himself with a group at the weekend, said when the weather turned his group changed course to trek the lower climbs to steer clear of the snow.
While the autumn weather has been unseasonably mild, a storm closed in on Friday bringing thick snow to the ranges, with temperatures plummeting to below zero and a wind chill factor of minus 10 degrees.
Bigwood said if Myers had a good quality tent, a warm sleeping bag, and had found a sheltered spot during the bad weather, there was every possibility he could still be alive.
"He could be waiting it out," he said.
"If he has a good tent and good sleeping bag and is sheltered, as long as he hasn't had an accident he could be sitting it out until it clears."
Bigwood said there were basic steps that anyone attempting to enter the bush should adhere to ensure their survival should they become lost or injured, and that included a adopting a range of safety measures.
Every preparation measure increased the chance of a successful rescue effort in an emergency. That included have the necessary location equipment, like a locating beacon or a satellite texting device, and a mountain radio.
These devices were often available for hire from local hunting clubs, while Bigwood said the Wellington Mountain Radio Service hired out equipment at low cost.
Informing someone of your planned route, "including plan B and plan C", was also invaluable information for those attempting a rescue effort, as it narrowed down a search.
Filling in log books at huts along a trek was also a valuable clue for any rescue effort.
"Even if it is a short entry in a log book, it can make all the difference if something does go wrong," he said.
No safety measure was full proof or perfect, but used together they increased the chances of a safe rescue.
He said warmth, shelter from the wind and rain, and water were more important than food. He had been part of successful rescue efforts were people had gone for long periods without food and still survived.
Bigwood remembered one successful rescue attempt where a lost tramper managed to survive six weeks in the bush with a small bag of rice. But he was warm and watered, key factors that kept the man alive.
The Mountain Safety Council says on its website the Tararua Range is one of the leading hotspots for tramping incidents. It says the Tararua Forest Park is the third highest conservation area for search and rescues, behind Fiordland and Tongariro National Parks. It says five fatalities in 10 years (2007 – 2017) made the park the worst spot in the North Island for tramping fatalities.
Meanwhile, safety efforts were hampered by continued bad weather and as of yesterday Myers was still missing.
A search and rescue helicopter using thermal imaging technology was scanning the area while more than 50 volunteers were searching tracks and ridges.
Bigwood said that only went to serve as a reminder of the importance of a sound plan and communication as a way of narrowing down any search.
Myer's wife and family were remaining hopeful he would still be found alive.