Life in the balance on a ledge

17:00, Jun 29 2014
Ben Severne
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE: Ben Severne was secured by a rescue team and winched to safety by helicopter after three nights on  a ledge. 

A Lake Taupo man was moments from death after spending three nights stuck on a precarious ledge wearing just his boots, pants and a t-shirt.

Ben Severne, 48, was yesterday recovering with family and friends at his Hallett's Bay home, 20km south of Taupo, after being winched to safety by helicopter.

A two-hour walk in the Lake Taupo Forest on Wednesday to cut a horse track turned disastrous when he came across debris-filled gullies that he struggled to navigate.

Ben Severne being winched from Lake Taupo forest
RESCUE: Ben Severne being winched from Lake Taupo forest after being stuck on a narrow ledge for three nights.

With time against him, he struck a path down to the Waitotara Stream so he could return home but it became a life-altering decision.

He came across a gap between two bluffs and attempted to climb down with his feet jammed on one side and his body pressed against the other.

"To my horror, the gap got about three inches wider and my arse wasn't getting any bigger so Bear Grylls worked for about three feet, then I had to push my arse out to keep the traction on my feet and then the hands slipped."


He came-to on a log, which was stuck on a narrow ledge - no bigger than a family car - overlooking a sheer drop to the stream 50 metres below and against a series of bluffs too steep to climb out.

To his right was a pair of towering cliffs about 2 metres apart and the waterfall he had fallen down and a series of smaller falls that stretched into the hills above.

He was just 650 metres from the back of his father's home but there was no going back - he was stranded.

"So many things could've happened. I could've drowned in the waterfall," he said.

"So much luck. It was life-changing, brother."

Hungry and tired, he stayed awake at night by treading backwards and forwards and slept through the day.

"I created a new shuffle, bro. I kept a rock on my left-hand side and I'd walk a few paces and turn around and walk back and turn around and walk back," he said.

"Then I'd stand on a spot and shake my legs like I'm Usain Bolt, bro, and I'd let myself almost rest and sleep standing-up and as soon as my legs buckled, I knew it was time to start walking again."

Severne's dog, Whai, watched as he tumbled down to his narrow perch and despite a plea for her to head home, she risked it all to be by her master's side and leapt down the waterfall after him.

"I've never see a dog do that before and she made it and I just used her as a bloody warmer and jammed her in my back."

He said the dark, cold nights were a nightmare with the central North Island sleet and rain making it bitterly cold and without his heart medication, he thought his time was up.

"My heart felt like it was going to blow up. When I did the tests, the doctor said to me my body was in the beginning of shutdown mode and because I've got a stent in my heart, it will attack the weakest part.

"I was right on knocking at the door on that," he said.

He only expected to be in the bush for a few hours and would usually take plenty of equipment on longer trips and said it was a hard lesson to learn.

"Lesson is, your family is the most important thing so stop doing silly things," he said.

More than 70 Turangi hunters, forestry workers and friends joined the police search and rescue mission.

"They all downed tools, the bush crews stopped, they put a tapu on the land and the local forestry contractor here took his boys off and paid them the day to find me."

Severne's mate, Brett Cooper from Tauranga, risked his own safety to drop down to the ledge when he found him and said Severne was in a bad way.

"We had a bit of luck but we found him," he said. "He was in pretty poor condition, he had been out for three nights. He was shaking and was in pretty desperate condition."

Cooper had been in the bush with Severne before and said he was an experienced bushman who got into a bad spot.

"He just dropped down and got stuck."

Waikato Times