A search and rescue helicopter touches down at Hood Aerodrome, bringing back search teams from the Tararuas. PHOTO/ELI HILL

ELI HILL
eli.hill@age.co.nz

Emergency services are playing things by ear as the search for the tramper who went missing in the Tararuas enters its fourth day yesterday.

Search and Rescue Wellington District officer in charge, Sergeant Anthony Harmer, said deteriorating weather conditions had caused the search for the missing British tramper to be scaled back.

“The Tararuas are living up to their name at the moment.

“They’re incredibly challenging, the clouds lowering, the rivers are coming up, the wind’s gusting. It was making things beyond challenging for the teams and helicopters

“All the teams are out but one who are stationed on top of the ridge because they weren’t able to get them out.”

Thermal imaging is now available to the searchers, but Harmer said they were waiting for a break in the weather to use it.

Conditions were forecast to remain poor over the coming days and search teams would continue to be deployed as the weather allowed.

“The Tararuas have to be respected for what they are,” Harmer said.

The missing Wellington-based man set off from the Levin side of the Tararuas last Tuesday and was aiming to complete the Northern Crossing by around noon on Saturday.

When he failed to arrive at Mt Holdsworth, his partner raised the alarm. A search and rescue operation began on Sunday.

The tramper signed a log book at Arete Hut, at around the mid-point of the tramp, but no other log books had been signed in other huts.

There had been no contact since Thursday morning when he texted his partner.

A dog team had been sent in after footprints had been found in the snow but there had been no further clues since then. Snow had not fallen when the man set out on the tramp, raising doubts about whether they were his.

It is believed the tramper was “moderately experienced” and had tramped overseas.

He is believed to be carrying a tent and all-seasons sleeping bag with him, which if he had hunkered down would have made for “an uncomfortable few nights” but an adequate shelter.

Search and Rescue team member, Senior Constable Brett Main.

Search and Rescue team member Senior Constable Brett Main spent Sunday and Monday in a three-person team searching the ridge tops for sign of the missing man.

“As soon as you step on the snow you go through it up to your mid-thigh. Every step was just hard work.

“It was amazing, there were a few spots where we needed crampons and ice axes to get around which is unusual for the Tararuas.”

Main got into the ranges at around 10am Sunday and searched until just before dark when he was picked up by a helicopter and transferred to Carkeek Hut.

While the weather hadn’t been “too bad” on Sunday, the weather began to deteriorate when his crew carried on the search on Monday, Main said.

“It was a very windy west-northwest wind, rain was constantly blasting in your face.

“If you weren’t used to those conditions, you’d find it very trying.”

With years of experience in search and rescue under his belt Main said he was still optimistic about finding the tramper.