Safety tips for mountain runners

00:13, Jan 25 2013

A runner who became lost in the Tararua range for three days ought to have carried a personal emergency locator beacon, according to some experts.

Titahi Bay resident Alastair Shelton became lost in the Tararua range while running the Holdsworth Jumbo circuit track on December 29 last year.

He was located and rescued two days later on New Year's Eve, but not before a team of 95 people, three helicopters and two dogs had spent three days searching for him.

Senior Constable Pete Cunningham of Masterton said 80 of those people were search and rescue volunteers who gave up their time for no reward.

"If there were ever a group of people that deserve the title of heroes they are our search and rescue teams," he said.

Mr Shelton was wearing top-of- the-range clothing which helped keep him warm for two nights and was carrying a small pack but no map or personal emergency locator beacon.


His gear was adequate for a two or three-hour run, Mr Cunningham said.

"His gear was not adequate when he ran off the track and the conditions got wet and windy."

New Zealand Mountain Safety Council communications manager Andrea Corrigan strongly recommended that trampers, hunters, climbers and any other land-based outdoors enthusiasts carried a personal locator beacon when venturing outdoors.

The beacons do not depend on a line of sight to a relay tower, as cellphones do, but use satellites to locate their position and communicate with rescue co- ordination centres.

But they should only be activated in life-threatening situations, Ms Corrigan said.

Wellington adventure race organiser Michael Jacques said people running in the mountains should always carry emergency locator beacons.

"They are available now and they just should be used. It's as simple as that," he said.

"Anyone who has spent time in the Tararuas knows it's a pretty fickle area, particularly from the Masterton side. It just goes straight up onto the tops."

In contrast to Mr Shelton's story, Lower Hutt multisporter James Coubrough was injured in the mountains in more difficult terrain and at higher altitude while training for the Speights Coast to Coast in December.

Coubrough was running up the Deception River valley when he fell and broke his ankle.

He activated his emergency locator beacon and a rescue helicopter picked him up and took him to Christchurch Hospital.

"He [Coubrough] was in a potentially far worse area in terms of being remote and potentially not much help coming real soon," Mr Jacques said.

"He so did the right thing."

As a minimum equipment level, mountain runners should carry a full set of polyprops, a jacket, enough food for twice the time they expect to be out and a map, he said.

"And beyond that, tell people where you are going."

But Mr Cunningham said a beacon may not have made much difference to the time it took to rescue Mr Shelton, although it could have raised the alarm earlier. Two private and one air force helicopter were used but the weather only gave them a window of about two hours when they could fly.

It took search teams four hours to reach their search area but, had the weather permitted flying, it would have been 15 minutes, he said.

"We still would have the problem of getting search and rescue teams to walk in, or waiting for the wind to drop," he said.

The mountain safety council has an outdoor safety code and five short videos explaining it, at Tips.

Information on where to buy or hire personal locator beacons and other outdoor emergency communications devices can be found at .nz/outdoorcomms.

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