A 30-hour Fiordland downpour forced a hypothermic hunter's mate to call in a rescue helicopter on Thursday - but the pair had almost decided not to pack the device which saved his life.
Denis Tipene was on a three-week hunting trip with Paul McClelland along the Henry Burn, near Dusky Sound when his hypothermic condition became so bad he couldn't walk or talk.
They had only planned to take a radio to keep in contact with civilisation, but Mr McClelland's wife, Julie, nagged him into taking a beacon with them.
On Wednesday, 10 days into the trip, they had tramped up the Henry Burn from their base camp.
For hours it did nothing but rain. The weather hadn't been good all trip - they had one day of fine weather - but this was different, and Mr Tipene began to suffer.
"All day it had been getting colder - I was getting worse," Mr Tipene said.
In the headwaters of the burn they made a simple fire and had a bare bones meal of tea and baked beans. They slept badly in a tent full of water before deciding to turn back early on Thursday morning.
It was a horrible walk. With 25kg packs on their backs, they fell, stumbled and trudged their way towards their base, further down the burn.
It took seven hours. Fog closed in and soon there were no landmarks to see by, Mr McClelland said.
By 3pm, Mr Tipene was in a bad way. Mr McClelland had been cajoling him and trying to get him to move, but it was getting worse.
"He couldn't even talk, or walk," he said. "Couldn't carry his pack. Nothing."
He realised he had no option but to activate the beacon.
"Denis would have died out there. He would have died last night."
Because he knew help was on the way, he set about trying to save Mr Tipene's life.
"I got him under a tree, on an upturned tent."
He opened the survival pack he always carries when tramping.
"I put the tin foil over him, wrapped him up in two sleeping bags, sat and waited." Two hours later, the Southern Lakes Helicopter arrived. Mr Tipene was flown to hospital in Invercargill.
It turned out they were only a couple of kilometres from their base camp, but Mr McClelland said he had no choice. He stayed behind to pack up the camp and said there had been 100mm of rain overnight.
"We were trying to get back, but he couldn't do it . . . I was trying to look after Denis, get him home. He couldn't go any further. That was the end of that."
The pair were recovering at Mr McClelland's house yesterday.
He said the beacon had saved Mr Tipene's life, and it was a testament to how well they worked and how important they were.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Check out what's on in your community or post an upcoming event.
Subscribe to a digital replica of The Southland Times.
Southland Times subscriber news and information.
Click here for information about advertising with The Southland Times.