Te Anau helicopter pilot Mark Deaker was on a deer hunting flight last week – but ended up snaffling a lost American tramper.
David Tamowski, 55, was found on Thursday morning by Deaker at Hidden Falls Creek, a tributary of the Hollyford Valley.
He was reported missing to police on Tuesday after failing to make a planned flight to meet family in Auckland, and had not been seen for nine days.
Deaker – who was on aerial deer-hunting flight with two shooters – saw Tamowski waving from his campsite in a clearing and decided to land and ask if there was a problem.
The chopper pilot was unaware an American tramper had been reported missing in the area, but was concerned Tamowski was six days overdue.
The American told Deaker he had intended to walk out of the area last Friday, and asked if he could call his wife to say he was fine.
Deaker: “I just gathered that he wasn’t really all that familiar with the area, and I didn’t trust that he wasn’t going to get completely messed up and the situation get quite bad, so I thought the best thing to do was get him out of there,” he told the Otago Daily Times.
”It could easily have been another week or two before I or anyone else went through there again, so it was pretty lucky really.
”There’s no legal requirement for you to take a beacon, but in this day and age, it’s pretty silly if you don’t.”
Although Tamowski had food and was in ”good spirits”, he had lost his map in a fall.
Acting Senior Sergeant Steve Watt, of Queenstown, said Mr Tamowski had had been walking an abbreviated version of the Five Passes tramp, north of the popular Routeburn Track, when he became disoriented and veered off his planned route.
He had also ventured out of the area searched by LandSAR and Department of Conservation staff on Wednesday and Thursday morning.
”He’s extremely lucky,” Acting Snr Sgt Watt said.
”It highlights the need to have a detailed idea of where you’re going, to ensure your family and friends know your intentions, and to carry the appropriate equipment, including an emergency beacon.”