Boulder just bad luck, says tourist

CHEERFUL: Swiss tourist Severina Kaeppeli narrowly avoided being killed by a falling boulder on Mount Ngauruhoe this week. 
CHEERFUL: Swiss tourist Severina Kaeppeli narrowly avoided being killed by a falling boulder on Mount Ngauruhoe this week. 

Being stuck between a rock and a hard place isn't a metaphor for Severina Kaeppeli, it's a memory - and she's got the cracked skull and broken arm to prove it.

The 27-year-old Swiss tourist was descending Mt Ngauruhoe with her boyfriend, Werner Haslehner, on her second day in New Zealand when she found herself in the path of a rockfall.

"You could always hear people screaming 'rock, rock', then I heard it again and I looked up and could see this great big boulder rolling down towards me.

"It was jumping and whenever it jumped it changed direction so it was really hard to anticipate where it would go.

"I was trying to hide behind this big rock but I didn't get there and all I could do was lift my arm to protect my head," she said.

"I still have this flashing picture of this boulder running towards me. I was just hoping please don't hit me, but it did.

"After that I screamed very loudly, possibly scaring a lot of people."

The law student said the boulder that struck her was twice the size of a human head. It left her with a cracked skull, a broken arm, a cracked shoulder blade and deaf in one ear.

Amazingly, given her injuries, and the fact this happened on just her second day in New Zealand, she is remarkably upbeat.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Rotorua yesterday - where she has spent the bulk of her time in New Zealand - she described the incident as simple bad luck.

"We didn't feel unsafe because we were relatively prepared. My boyfriend is Austrian and I'm Swiss so we're used to mountains, as the cliche goes. And several people [on the mountain] were in plimsolls," she said.

"One tiny comforting thing is it wasn't our mistake, just really bad luck."

She is also full of praise for her fellow hikers, the crew of Taupo's Greenlea Rescue Helicopter who flew her off the mountain and to Rotorua Hospital staff for her treatment.

In a remarkable twist of fate, the first person on the scene was a German doctor, something she said she found comforting as a native German speaker herself.

It was also a relief for her boyfriend.

"He didn't really know what to do. There were people calling the ambulance, it was painful but there was many people around helping us so that was nice."

She described her relief at the arrival of the rescue helicopter.

"I got nappied. I think that's the term? I got a nappy to lift me up together with the medic by rope which was actually quite exciting.

"I'm scared of heights but I did enjoy that. The medic was an extremely nice guy, very cheerful so that relaxed the situation"

When they got down the mountain she got to sit in the front seat of the chopper.

"I could see the whole alpine crossing."

It wasn't until arriving at the hospital that the full extent of her injuries was known.

"I had no headache and wasn't knocked out so they were quite surprised. Usually you would need a lot of painkillers."

After surgery to repair her broken left arm, and stitches in her head, Miss Kaeppeli finds herself in something of a limbo, as she has been told she is unable to fly back to Switzerland until January 27 due to her head injury.

But she isn't downbeat about her situation.

"I still have my head. I'm left-handed and it's only my right arm [that's broken] so I'm capable of writing."

She also said her experience won't put her off returning to New Zealand.

"The country is beautiful and the people are amazing, especially in the A&E. I would feel safe to come back, but I wouldn't necessarily climb that mountain again."

Waikato Times