Searchers for missing tramper remain hopeful

MISSING: Andrew Wyatt was heading to Arthurs Pass.
MISSING: Andrew Wyatt was heading to Arthurs Pass.

Hopes remain that a missing British tramper will be located, even though two men who disappeared in the area previously have never been found.

Rescue teams will today begin searching the Nelson Lakes National Park where Andrew Ian Wyatt, 41, was last seen 12 days ago.

The Englishman was walking Te Araroa Trail and was last seen at Blue Lake Hut on December 15. The food package he had planned to pick up the next day from Boyle village was never collected.

The area between the hut and Wyatt's next intended destination was "one of the more remote and difficult parts" of the trail, Nelson search and rescue co-ordinator Sherp Tucker said.

"It's rugged, it's remote and the weather can change so much. It's a frequent place for the rescue helicopter to go to beacon activations for people who are hurt," he said.

Tucker, who has been involved in search and rescue since 1962, knew of two men who had disappeared in the same area. Their bodies have never been recovered.

The first tramper went missing in the late 1990s and, as with Wyatt, there was a delay before the rescue teams mobilised, he said.

The only trace of American tramper Ed Reynolds, who went missing in 2009, was a footprint, a tent peg and a strapless watch.

"From what I understand they were all last seen, as the crow flies, within 10 kilometres of one another," Tucker said.

However, instances of miraculous survival have been recorded in the area. In 2001, Christchurch tramper Henry Smith spent 10 days missing before he was found with a broken pelvis in a gully.

"Yes, this man [Wyatt] could still be alive without a doubt - just because it's been 12 days, you cannot say the man is not alive," Tucker said.

He urged police to be proactive in their search for Wyatt because "footprints disappear, people's memories start to fade and the longer you leave it the more it remains a mystery".

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman in London told The Press she was aware of a British national missing in New Zealand and "consular assistance" was being provided to his family.

Wyatt arrived in New Zealand on November 21 for a second attempt at walking Te Araroa Trail, which links tramping routes from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

It would take an average tramper about a week to get from Nelson Lakes National Park to Boyle village. Blue Lake Hut sits about halfway.

A Nelson police spokeswoman said searchers had been delayed due to the location and high alpine winds, but a rescue team would be dropped into the Blue Lake area today, weather permitting.

Tucker received a call from a search and rescue adviser yesterday to discuss setting up radio communication systems in the area.

Last year, Wyatt failed to reach a planned meeting when walking the same trail.

His bank and telephone records were being traced in the hope his transactions would indicate he was out of the mountains. Anyone with information can contact Nelson police on (03) 546 3840.

The Press