Search resumes for missing Milford tramper

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High river levels are hampering the search for a missing 22-year-old Sydney woman swept away while crossing a stream on the Milford Track.

Police said the Clinton River was running at 1.8m after heavy rain and the safe level for searchers was 0.25m.

The search was postponed this morning (Wednesday) but police and a Search and Rescue team returned to the area this afternoon by helicopter after a break in the weather.

“A small window of opportunity arose this afternoon at Te Anau for a further search of Clinton River,” a police statement reads.

“We are utilising a Southern Lakes helicopter with searchers on board and they will search until dark.

“It is expected with the current predicted forecast that a foot search of the accessible areas of the river will not be conducted tomorrow as planned.” 

Family of the missing tramper are travelling to New Zealand and expected tonight or tomorrow morning.

The tramper and her partner had spent time in Queenstown before heading to Milford.

Noel Saxon, general manager of Queenstown-based Ultimate Hikes, says his company had guided thousands of trekkers through that area.

“Pompolona Creek has a reputation for rising and falling very quickly, in a couple of hours. Even with a bridge over it, we would often hold our guided walkers back and wait until it was safe to cross.

“Those creeks would be very difficult, in fact impossible, to pass in heavy rainfall. It can be quite dangerous.

“The big thing about that area is that its completely safe, if it’s regarded with respect. A bridge makes a huge difference.

“Without a bridge, it needs to be regarded with respect. Often within a couple of hours, it would be safe to cross. Maybe just having that knowledge is what has gone amiss here.”

– Otago Daily Times

Backpacker tried to rescue woman

A German backpacker slipped and smashed his shoulder and mouth on wet rocks as he tried to rescue an Australian woman who fell into a freezing river on the Milford Track on Monday.

The woman was hiking with her Australian partner when she was caught in the Pompolona Creek about 3pm on Monday and was swept into the Clinton River.

Sebastian Keilholz, 20, from Bamberg in Germany, was with the couple - he called them “Jessica” and “Jean” – when they reached the creek.

The river was so inflated from pouring rain that they could not see the normal stepping stones, he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Jean, 26, and Sebastian crossed first, before Jean went back to help Jessica cross. But as they crossed together, the river overpowered Jean mid-stream and he fell. He managed to grab a rock to halt his slide until Sebastian could reach him and pull him out.

Jessica was also mid-stream when she was overwhelmed by the force of the water.

“We told her to stay there, where she was, but she was so in panic, that she also fell into the stream,” Sebastian told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Jean was saved so I ran as fast as I could to help Jessica. I fell two times, but I stood up and ran.

“The rocks were so slippery, that I fell again, two times on my shoulder and then on my mouth. My teeth were broken, blood came out of my mouth and Jessica was gone.”

They activated an emergency beacon, which was picked up by the National Rescue Co-ordination Centre about 6pm Monday, but poor weather prevented a helicopter rescue. Helicopter searches yesterday morning and afternoon found no sign of her.

Sebastian ran on to Mintaro Hutt, where he gathered other hikers to return to the creek and rescue Jean, who was suffering from shock.

Sebastian was upset about the condition of the river crossing.

“I’m angry that they didn’t tell us that there are no bridges and I’m angry that I couldn’t help her.

“I would never go (on) such a dangerous track if I knew that there are no bridges. I hope they will find Jessica in the next days.”

Police said another group of walkers had crossed the same stretch without difficulty about two hours before them.
A crew from Southern Lakes Helicopters spent yesterday afternoon searching for the woman, but stopped searching when it became dark.

Police were working with Department of Conservation staff and LandSAR volunteers. Jean is understood to be in shock, but helping the rescue team. Jessica’s family are on their way to New Zealand.

The Milford Track Great Walk is closed to guided walkers from May 1 to October 27 but is open to independent trampers with reduced facilities.

APNZ