Lost tramper strong-willed - police

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 09:12 20/06/2012

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A tramper found safe and well after three nights in the Hunua Ranges was relieved to be rescued but had wanted to get himself out, police say.

Ronnie Fong was found about 7pm yesterday at the southern end of the Pukapuka Track and despite enduring cold and wet conditions, police said he could have survived for several more days.

"People have a lot more resilience and survivability than you actually think until something happens like you get injured," Search and Rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Dene Duthie said.

Fong was "really grateful" when found but was a strong-willed man and had "wanted to get himself out", he said.

His disappearance prompted a massive air and land search of the park involving up to 100 people in often cold, wet and windy conditions.

The search was hindered by the fact Fong kept moving to keep warm and find his way out and Duthie said the 39-year-old had probably covered around 50km before he stumbled across the track near the Manatangi dam.

"He just basically pointed his nose in one direction and stuck with that."

Searchers were ready to turn in for the day but extended their shift when a dog team found sign of Fong before he walked into the search party in an area that had previously been covered.

While he had found the track, he still would have had a four or five-hour walk to safety.

Duthie said Fong was better equipped than police had thought, had carried more food and had kept warm by moving around when attempts to shield himself from the cold with ferns had failed.

"He wouldn't have slept much. He's pretty tired."

He was aware people were searching for him but the dense bush made him difficult to spot.

If Fong had remained in the open area where his muesli bar was found he would probably have been found on Sunday because searchers were flying above the area, Duthie said.

The wrapper had at least helped searchers to focus their efforts in a certain area.

The bush was so dense that searchers could have passed within two metres of Fong and missed him if he was unresponsive.

Duthie said it was a massive relief when Fong was located because there'd been little sign of him and as more time passed the chances of him being found safe decreased.

He said if people got lost in the bush they should remain in one place in the open and leave signs for searchers.

Duthie thanked searchers including police, volunteers, the Air Force and Auckland Council rangers for their help.

"Without them we couldn't have done the job."

Some of the search teams had remained in the bush overnight and would return today.

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Fong would have his feet examined by a doctor today. They had suffered from being wet and cold the entire time.

His hands had also been affected.

Earlier yesterday Fong's sister, Margaret, said she was worried he might have been injured.

But she said when searchers found part of a Nutrigrain energy bar wrapper, a snack Fong was known to have been carrying, she had renewed hope he was alive.

Margaret said Fong was fit and an experienced tramper.

"We've been hiking, sometimes as a family. He's been hiking for over, I would say, three or four years. When he travels overseas he plans his vacations so he gets to hike different places."

- Fairfax Media

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