The Greenlea Rescue Helicopter was dispatched on Friday 8 June by the RCCNZ to an active beacon in the Urewera Ranges.
A man was quickly spotted in a clearing near a hut, some 150 meters from the beacons initial GPS coordinate. What from above initially looked like a man with possibly a rolled ankle, transpired to be a trouser-less boot clad man with severe hypothermia, huddling into the foetal position – and a remarkable tale of survival.
The otherwise uninjured man appears to have been in the bush for several weeks, but became trapped due to the elevated river levels. Having apparently run out of food four days ago, the man was trying to make his way to safety but found himself in the position where he needed to skirt the river. At this point, he was swept away downstream. Fortunately, he was able to get back to dry land but knew that to get to the hut safety required crossing the river again as he was now on the wrong bank.
This resulted in a second cold and terrifying trip downstream, fortuitously deposited him just upstream of the Hut. At this point – but still reluctantly, as he didn’t want to put everyone out, but in the knowledge that he is a good tax paying citizen – He activated his beacon.
Upon the rescue helicopter landing the delighted man, who was physically unable to get to the hut, and now so confused that he was unsure he was even looking at a hut, was re-dressed in dry clothing and placed in a thermal “electric” sleeping bag before being flown out to hospital with a very low body temperature.
The man would not have survived much longer, and the quickly deteriorating weather and late afternoon conditions necessitated a rapid departure.
Despite his initial condition and obvious confusion, later in the return flight we were thanked multiple times and serenaded with a delightful song from a man that 30 minutes earlier had resigned himself to dying next to that river, twenty meters from a hut, but unable to reach it.