Exchange student found after night in hills

An Italian exchange student lost in rugged Wellington hills has been found.

Eric Rigamonti, 17, went for a day walk in the hills between Wainuiomata and Eastbourne with two fellow exchange students, from Japan and Spain, yesterday afternoon, Senior Sergeant Carolyn McKenzie said.

He sent a message to his Wainuiomata host family at 9pm to say they had become lost in dense bush.

At 11pm he spoke to police on his mobile phone. ''He told us he had separated from his friends to find mobile phone reception after the group became disorientated.''

Police started searching at 11pm and found the Spanish and Japanese students at 5am near Golans Creek.

Twenty-five search and rescuers searched this morning for Rigamonti, who police described as a ''fit and active'' teenager with experience in trail walking.

Police said the teenager was found shortly before 1pm when he'd walked to a rural property on Coast Rd in Wainuiomata. He had walked out by himself.

Wellington search and rescue co-ordinator Jo Holden earlier said there were serious concerns for the Italian's well-being, especially as "hazardous weather" was on its way.

According to MetService, last night was relatively warm in Wainuiomata, where the temperature dropped to 10degC. But  a MetService spokeswoman said a front was moving towards Wellington from the South Island this morning.

Northerly winds would rise to gale, gusting to 100kmh. There would be rain this afternoon before the rain and wind eased tonight.

Westpac rescue helicopter crewman Dave Greenberg said the two students were winched out, cold but otherwise fine.

Police and searchers had found them earlier and had them warmly rugged up when the helicopter arrived, soon after first light.

The three students, all aged 17, arrived in New Zealand about a month ago and were studying at Wainuiomata High School. The students were in New Zealand with exchange programme AFS.

AFS spokeswoman Susan Fogarty said the track the boys had set out on, from Wainuiomata to Days Bay, was good. They had set out on the walk on a sunny day with permission from their host family.

Every AFS student who came to New Zealand was briefed on New Zealand conditions.

Police said the students' had gone into the hills wearing jackets and jeans. They had backpacks but it was unclear if they had the gear needed to camp overnight.

The Dominion Post