Cellphone light brings rescue

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 29/07/2013

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A light from a fading cellphone helped guide rescuers to a woman and her two children lost while walking in the Richmond ranges.

Search and rescue teams, including a six-strong search management team, and 12 others in the field were called out on Saturday after the woman phoned police to say she and her two children were lost.

Sergeant Steve Savage, of Nelson, said today they had started putting people in four-wheel-drive vehicles to help with the search.

The trio was eventually found around 8pm, after rescuers had worked in the dark and with fading communication as the woman's cellphone ran low on battery power.

They were spotted by the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter, which directed the rescuers to them.

Rescue helicopter pilot Tim Douglas-Clifford said the helicopter crew noticed the light from the woman's cellphone then used specialist night vision goggles and a Forward Looking Infrared camera to identify the group.

They then used a spotlight from the aircraft to guide the rescue team to the area, because they were unable to land.

Savage said the woman and children, aged 6 and 10, had planned a walk from Marsden Valley to the Barnicoat fire lookout, and then on down into Queen St in Richmond.

He said the woman raised the alarm with police about 3pm on Saturday, concerned about their whereabouts, but reported they were still walking and all OK.

"When it started to get dark she got into a bit of a pickle and made a few bad calls," Savage said.

"She left the road and walked down a pine plantation but then decided it was unsafe to carry on," he said.

"It was then a matter of waiting until we could get to her."

He said after her first call the battery in her phone was all but flat, which meant she could only send text messages to save power.

Police advised her to stay put until rescuers arrived.

Savage said the woman and children seemed to be capable walkers, but as it got dark their only light source was the cellphone.

They had water and food and clothes warm enough for daytime temperatures, but possibly not night conditions.

Douglas-Clifford said the helicopter joined the search around 7pm and the group was found around an hour later.

He said the three were found about 100 to 150 metres from a forestry road, and about two kilometres from the point where the ground search had started.

Savage described the terrain as steep pine plantation.

"The fact there was a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old out there upped the ante a bit."

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- The Nelson Mail

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