2 Injured Hikers Found Safe After Spending 19 Days Missing in 'Hostile' New Zealand Wilderness
Authorities said Jessica O'Connor and Dion Reynolds got lost during the first few days of their hike due to fog
Two hikers are lucky to be alive after they went missing and spent nearly three weeks in a "hostile environment" in the New Zealand wilderness, officials confirmed.
Jessica O'Connor and Dion Reynolds were discovered by a search helicopter on Wednesday around 1 p.m. local time, according to a press release from the New Zealand Police Department.
Authorities had been searching for the 23-year-olds, both from the Tasman area, since May 18 after a friend reported them missing when they failed to return from the Kahurangi National Park.
"This is a fantastic outcome and one that we were all hoping for, although we were becoming increasingly concerned as the days progressed," Nelson Bays Area Commander Paul Borrell said in a statement. "I am so very, very proud of our Search and Rescue team made up largely of volunteers and supported by Police."
O'Connor and Reynolds first embarked on their hike on May 9 and were "understood to have entered the Anatori River car park," but authorities believe they got lost within the first few days of their trip due to fog.
New Zealand news outlet TVNZ reported that the pair later took a fall, which caused Reynolds to suffer a strained ankle, while O'Connor hurt her back. They remained in that location for a few days before moving to a spot with water, according to the outlet.
After they were reported missing, search efforts were launched with multiple teams, experts, volunteers and even a specialist search dog from Blenheim involved.
On multiple occasions, the search teams had to suspend their efforts in the "extremely hazardous terrain" due to unsafe and "unfavourable conditions" from a large amount of rainfall, according to authorities.
"This search was particularly challenging being such a remote rugged, bush-clad area," Sergeant Malcolm York with the Nelson Police Search and Rescue Coordinator said in a statement.
"There were up to 50 people involved made up of Police, NZDF, Fire and Emergency NZ, Land SAR, Department of Conservation's Aoraki/Mount Cook Search and Rescue team, and other volunteers who all desperately wanted to return Jessica and Dion safely to their families," York added.
After a "19-day ordeal in a hostile environment," search teams located O'Connor and Reynolds in the headwaters of the Fraser Stream, according to Wednesday's press release.
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A Give a Little fundraiser, set up by the hikers' loved ones to support New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Inc. (LANDSAR), noted that a "search helicopter spotted smoke," which was how they were able to locate O'Connor and Reynolds.
"A NZDF NH90 helicopter was called and it uplifted the pair to return them to Nelson where they are being medically assessed at Nelson Hospital," the New Zealand Police Department said in the release, adding that the pair's "initial condition appears very good" despite the circumstances.
Officials later learned that the hikers opted to "stay put" after getting injured, but their rescue was just in time as they "ran out of food some time prior to being spotted by the helicopter."
Following their rescue, O'Connor's parents Mark and Simone spoke to TVNZ and said they were "over the moon" that their daughter had been found and that they "both burst into tears" upon hearing the good news.
Simone added to the outlet that her daughter works as a kayak tour guide, so she was confident that she would survive this.
"I never had a doubt about Jess. She knows what she's doing so that was keeping our hopes up. She's very adventurous and she knows," she explained to TVNZ.
Added Mark: "It'll be interesting to hear the full story but whatever it is it's seen her through so that's absolutely fantastic."