Pet survives 100m cliff fall and raging river


A Queenstowner is stunned that her dear old dog was found alive three days after plummeting down a 100m cliff. 

Heidi Willett was sure 10-year-old German shepherd Vice had met his fate when falling over a bush-clad cliff above the Arrow Gorge – bordering her father’s farm – about 2pm last Friday. 

“As soon as I saw where he’d gone off I didn’t think he’d survive,” Willett says. 

“Seeing the terrain he fell in, I thought ‘God, that would have killed a person’. 

“I’d signed him off and rung the bungy bridge to let them know if they saw a dog floating past dead to let us know. I was gutted because he’s my best mate.” 

Willett acknowledges the efforts of four Alpine Cliff Rescue specialists who’d previously worked with Vice when he was a search and rescue dog. The cliff-rescue quartet spent Friday afternoon and all weekend unsuccessfully looking for their former furry friend. 

“We were down there within an hour,” Willett says. 

“He didn’t reply to us but he’s obviously smacked himself in the head and then moved on that night.” She says nearby farmers found Vice on their property on Monday afternoon. 

“They phoned around neighbouring properties that evening and eventually got dad on Tuesday morning.” 

Willett believes Vice bounced down the cliff, swam a flooded Arrow River and then travelled upriver to find a spot where he could climb out. Dog and owner were reunited on Tuesday at Remarkable Vets near Arrowtown. 

“I’m just so glad,” Willett says. 

“We picked big thorns out of his back for the rest of the day. There are cuts to his feet and nicks around his ankles but other than that he’s actually not too bad.” 

The cliff fall was Vice’s second brush with death. Formerly based in Dunedin for search and rescue, he almost lost a limb after a branch severed an artery. 

“I got given him and rehabbed him and he was fit enough to continue to do search and rescue work,” Willett says.

Vice has since been involved in countless callouts over his three years’ service in Queenstown until Willett retired him a year ago. 

“He’s such an amazing dog – he’s served New Zealand for nine years of his life,” she says.