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Chopper to the rescue

The Royal New Zealand Air Force [RNZAF] was called in to execute a daring rescue in the Tararua Forest Park that involved two stranded trampers being “winched off a ridgeline above waterfalls”.

The pair of hikers unexpectedly had to spend Sunday night on the mountain after they were forced off the track and overwhelmed by extreme wind conditions and poor weather during what was scheduled to be a multi-day hike in the Tararua Range.

The Rescue Coordination Centre [RCCNZ] was notified that a rescue beacon was activated at about 2.30pm on Sunday afternoon near Girdlestone, west of Masterton.

Land Search and Rescue groups from Wellington, Wairarapa, and Horowhenua were engaged, along with an RNZAF NH90 helicopter deployed from Ohakea Air Force Base.

RCCNZ also sought police assistance at approximately 3pm on Sunday.

Although aerial search and rescue was attempted, it wasn’t possible due to extreme winds and no visibility caused by low cloud coverage, and a ground team was later flown into the Arete Forks Hut on Sunday, several hours away from the known location of the personal locator beacon [PLB].

A police spokesperson confirmed that “the weather and terrain and conditions resulted in further setbacks and delays until a team walked to the location of the PLB at about 4pm” on Monday, and the hikers were lifted from the mountain about an hour later.

No injuries have been reported.

Sergeant Tony Matheson told the Times-Age that the incident is a timely reminder that hikers should always have a beacon on hand.

“Beacons are a lifesaving tool that allows rescue teams to respond to your location as soon as possible,” he said.

Matheson said the beacon was “a significant factor in their rescue” but also commended the pair for being well-equipped.

Response to beacon activations can be delayed due to poor weather events, which can cause rescues to sometimes take several days.

Wairarapa police area commander Scott Miller added that the weather conditions of the Tararua Range are unpredictable.

While the hikers rescued were experienced and prepared, Miller warned that others shouldn’t “go on a trip outside their experience and capability”.

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