Tramper's family mull drone probe
Drones may be the next step in the search for missing German tourist Christian Prehn.
His father Jens Prehn said the family planned to have drones or unmanned aerial vehicles searching Nelson Lakes National Park, while they remained at home in Krefeld, Germany. Christian, 19, was last seen on February 25.
Police began searching for him after a Department of Conservation worker discovered his pack lying beside the track in the Travers Saddle area at the beginning of this month.
Search teams spent several days searching for Christian in unforgiving alpine territory, aided by a helicopter, but search co-ordinator Senior Constable Dave Colville announced on March 7 that further ground searches would be carried out only when new information came to light.
Prehn said he had been communicating with Land Search and Rescue about continuing the search early next month. He wanted to bring a LandSAR team up to Travers Saddle by helicopter, saying he was beginning a donation campaign in Germany to raise funds towards the helicopter's hire.
He hoped to extend the campaign to fundraise in New Zealand.
"We intend to get some form of drones to be used in that search, as we think they might reach to places where people or dogs couldn't get to," Prehn said.
He said there was an increasing number of hobby photographers in Germany who used drones, and hoped there might be an individual or organisation in Nelson who could use their drone to help.
Palmerston North aerial mapping company Hawkeye UAV Ltd uses glider-style unmanned aerial vehicles to produce aerial maps. Operations director Dave Pemberton said that the outcome of a search mission over Travers Saddle rested on several different factors: the endurance of the UAV chosen; the resolution of its sensor; the type of ground it covered; its ability to work at a high altitude, and the capability of the person operating it in such an extreme alpine environment.
He said the operator would need to be up on the mountain tops near the UAV in order to operate it.
"I'm not saying it's viable, and I'm not saying it's not viable."
Asked to confirm the difficulty of the task, Pemberton was frank: "It's already difficult if they've not been able to find him in the last couple of weeks."
LandSAR chairman of Tasman and Golden Bay, Graham Pomeroy, said he was unwilling to comment at this stage, but Tasman LandSAR training officer Sherp Tucker said the additional search was likely to help resolve the family's grief.
"We quite often go and have another look," he said. "Anything that can actually help the family is good, considering what they're going through."