Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

New Zealand hikers recount ordeal of 19 days lost in wilderness

Dion Reynolds and Jessica O'Connor went missing after getting lost in fog in Kahurangi National Park

One of the two rescued hikers, wrapped in a white blanket, receives a hug as they enter a hospital in Nelson, New Zealand on May 27, 2020. Newshub/TVNZ via AP
One of the two rescued hikers, wrapped in a white blanket, receives a hug as they enter a hospital in Nelson, New Zealand on May 27, 2020. Newshub/TVNZ via AP

Two New Zealand hikers rescued after 19 days stranded in a rugged national park said they went almost two weeks without food and drank water from puddles to survive.

Dion Reynolds and Jessica O'Connor, both 23, set off on a five-day camping trip in Kahurangi National Park on the South Island on May 8 but became disorientated in heavy fog.

A military helicopter rescued them on Wednesday after a huge search operation in the area, which was the shooting location for Frodo and the Fellowship's escape from the grim Mines of Moria in Peter Jackson's blockbuster Lord of the Rings films.

The pair had only minor injuries suffered during falls as they desperately searched for water, with Mr Reynolds twisting his ankle and Ms O'Connor wrenching her back.

Mr Reynolds said they became lost in fog that lasted three days, and boiled water from "a little rocky puddle" to drink as their food supplies dwindled.

"We were very lost at this point," he told Radio New Zealand, saying they eventually decided to make camp and "wait out our injuries".

"It was 13 days with no food but the saving grace was that two minutes' walk across the gully was a fresh mossy stream that was nice and clean for us to drink – that's what kept up alive."

Search and rescue workers board helicopter during a rescue operation to find two missing hikers in New Zealand's Kahurangi National Park on May 27, 2020. New Zealand Defence Force via AP
Search and rescue workers board helicopter during a rescue operation to find two missing hikers in New Zealand's Kahurangi National Park on May 27, 2020. New Zealand Defence Force via AP

He said a helicopter flew within 50 metres at one point but failed to spot them, prompting the pair to light a fire to signal future searchers.

The tactic paid off about a week later, when another helicopter saw the column of smoke and found them.

Mr Reynolds said he and Ms O'Connor, both experienced hikers, never gave up hope, although he admitted that at times during the ordeal it was difficult to remain optimistic.

"It was a surreal experience, trying to keep positive and keep hope up," he said.

"Jess and I would wake up in the morning and say 'if it's not today [rescue], it's tomorrow', we were lifting each other and we'd make sure neither of us was going to break down."

He said one of the helicopter crew gave him a snack as they flew out of the wilderness, describing it as "the best chocolate bar I've ever had in my life".

Updated: May 28, 2020 11:50 AM

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