A tramper hiked through the night to get help for his paralysed friend after a day’s walking turned into a dramatic rescue bid.
Experienced trampers Anthony Oakly and brother-in-law Ian Hunt were in Marlborough’s rugged and remote back country earlier this year.
Ian fainted during the middle of the night at Severn Hut in the Molesworth, damaging his spinal cord and paralysing himself from the neck down.
But the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Anthony usually carried with him was at home with a dead battery.
“There was no way I could move him myself, luckily I’d done some first aid courses which covered spinal injuries,” Anthony says.
The pair knew their only hope was for Anthony to leave and find help.
“It was a hell of a call to make, to leave my mate there like that, but the hut book showed hardly anyone visited, so there was no point sitting there waiting for someone to turn up,” Anthony says.
“I made him as comfortable as I could … and set off towards some farm sheds, where I hoped to find help.”
Using a map by the light of the moon, Anthony says he had to cross five rapidly flowing rivers before he came across some farm sheds around four hours after setting off.
But, he says, to his horror, they were empty.
“That’s when it really hit me, I had no idea whether Ian was alive or dead at that stage, I had to keep going.”
About 5kms later Anthony made it to the Molesworth Station Road, empty and stretching out for miles in either direction.
As he was trying to decide which way to turn, he saw a cloud of dust kicked up by an approaching 4WD.
“It was a bit of a miracle, no one is usually on the road at that time. I flagged him down and convinced him to drive me to the closest Department of Conservation hut.”
The ranger at the hut contacted Molesworth Station, who called the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter.
At 11am that morning in January, Anthony heard his mate was being choppered to Christchurch Hospital.
“I was so relieved, because I knew then that he’d be ok,” Anthony says.
“Then I threw up. I think I must have had some delayed shock.
“Mountain bikers, trampers, anyone who heads out of mobile phone range, you should take your PLB with you. You just never know what could happen.”
Ian, who lay in “unbearable pain” for seven hours before the helicopter arrived, said it felt like an eternity.
“ … I was in constant pain, it was never ending,” Ian says.
“I thought it was mid-afternoon when the chopper arrived, but it was only 9.30am. It was awesome to see them.”
Ian spent time in Christchurch Hospital then Burwood Spinal Unit. He hopes to be back tramping again soon.
“I can’t wait to go tramping, it’s been a big part of my life for the last few years, I’ve still got to have it,” he says.