Paying for lost tourist’s phone data enabled teams to find him in deep fog, police say.

A police communications worker in Wellington is being credited with saving the life of a lost climber trapped on Mt Taranaki, suffering exposure in deteriorating conditions.

Central communications leader Kirsty Henson has been singled out by the Police Commissioner for paying for the injured Australian's mobile phone data coverage - an act that helped search teams to locate the stricken man six hours later.

Mrs Henson said she was supervising the communications team when the 22-year-old called 111 on Monday last week after he injured his ankle descending the mountain.

To help pinpoint his position, she turned to a special mobile locate application used on smartphones to geo-locate a person.


"I sent this man a text message saying, 'The New Zealand Police are trying to locate you. Please tap on this message', but I didn't get any response from him."

When the climber was contacted again, he said he had no available data credit on his phone.

Mrs Henson had thought local search and rescue would still be able to find him, but was told shocking visibility meant the climber could not identify landmarks and had no idea of his position.

The police communications team then turned to his phone provider but faced a potential 25-minute wait for customer service.

"In the meantime the cloud is closing in and this is someone's life and I'm sitting here with a credit card," Mrs Henson said.

So she registered an online account for the man, then quickly arranged a $10 data top-up and resent the app message. This time, rescuers managed to successfully geo-locate the Australian 1650m up the mountain in a rugged gorge.

Mrs Henson credited the app for saving the man's life because he was suffering from hypothermia when he was eventually rescued six hours later.

"Getting the rescuers to him was the difference between life and death."


Senior Sergeant Thomas McIntyre of Taranaki police said the 10-hour rescue effort was executed in "pea soup" conditions with 50m visibility.

Two crack alpine teams headed to the area on foot as flying conditions were too dangerous, but even with the GPS co-ordinates from the app, they still struggled to find the man.

Searchers relied on voice contact to lead them to the gully where the injured climber, now suffering from exposure, sat waiting to be rescued.

The mobile locate app had more than proved its worth, saving lives in some of New Zealand's most unforgiving terrain, Mr McIntyre said.

The app was able to explore the data on the phone and work out its GPS location. It then relayed that information back to the police, giving a rough idea of where the person was.

In his weekly blog, Commissioner Mike Bush said the Taranaki rescue was a great example of police values making a difference.


"This is a great example of professionalism - solving a problem - and empathy. When we offered to compensate Kirsty, she declined, saying it was her gift," he wrote.

Mrs Henson, a 16-year veteran of the communications team, said it was wonderful to be recognised.

"We do things like this all the time and we just do it. I must admit that it felt so good that it worked so perfectly."

Spark spokeswoman Lucy Fullarton said the company had a dedicated phone line for emergency services to contact Spark for help.