Friends Jess O'Connor and Dion Reynolds have had their first warm night at home since being lost in rugged bush for 19 days.

Now their families are paying tribute to the many search and rescue teams and volunteers involved in the mission that resulted in the ultimate win; when the pair were found alive at Kahurangi National Park yesterday afternoon.

"We are all eternally grateful to LandSAR [search and rescue] and all other organisations involved in the search," Jess' brother Dominic O'Connor wrote online.

"Without their efforts and skill, the outcome could have been very different."


Dominic O'Connor shared those words on a dedicated Givealittle page their family had set up in the last few days in a bid to raise funds for the "incredible efforts" of LandSAR.

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Almost $31,000 has been raised for the organisation by 7am today.

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Many of those donating left messages praising the efforts of those involved, with some people calling them "absolute legends!"

Searchers praised as heroes

Others thanked teams for their perseverance, care and skill.

Another wrote: "Thank you for your wonderful work in finding these dear missing people. May other searches be as successful. The searchers are - all of them - heroes."

News of the incredible survival broke yesterday afternoon when Police posted a brief message on its official Twitter page saying the pair had been found alive.

The two friends entered the bush on May 9 but became lost early on in their tramp due to fog. It's believed they spent about two weeks hunkered down in rugged terrain, desperate for water and running out of food.


Despite both suffering injuries during their dramatic ordeal, they survived freezing temperatures, with rescuers crediting the pair's "excellent equipment" for keeping them alive.

Jess O'Connor. Photo / Supplied
Jess O'Connor. Photo / Supplied

O'Connor's parents "burst into tears" at the news their missing daughter had been found.

Mark O'Connor said they spoke to their daughter briefly after the rescue by phone from her hospital bed.

"She literally just said, 'Hey mum and dad, it's Jess!', so we'll learn a bit more but apparently they're both in good shape so that's good," he told TVNZ.

"She was very emotional," her mother Simone said.

"I think she was in tears and couldn't talk much so that was about it really, we will talk more once we see her."

While the O'Connors spent "many sleepless nights" worrying about the missing pair, Simone said she never doubted they would be found alive.

After the pair failed to emerge as expected they were reported missing on May 18 and a massive search operation was launched.

Dion Reynolds. Photo / Supplied
Dion Reynolds. Photo / Supplied

Searchers initially had good weather on their side but the search was suspended over the weekend due to heavy rain, reducing the odds of the pair being found alive.

They were finally located shortly before 1pm in the Anatori area, prompting smiles and relief from rescuers.

Royal New Zealand Air Force flight lieutenant Loic Ifrah said coordinates from a civil helicopter who first spotted the stricken pair led him straight to the spot where the trampers waited below.

The pilot said it was a "incredible piece of searching" that had unearthed their location in a small clearing behind a dead tree.

"I knew exactly where to look and looking down into that hole, I still couldn't see them."