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US students survive nine days in New Zealand bush

Two US students trapped in the New Zealand wilderness by a snowstorm trekked back out to safety after surviving their nine-day ordeal by rationing their meager supplies of trail mix and warming themselves in hot springs.


Safe and sound: Erica and Alex were trapped on a mountain in Arthur’s Pass National Park on New Zealand for nine days before they walked to safety while a helicopter was searching for them

Alec Brown and Erica Klintworth, both 21, returned to the city of Christchurch on Monday after meeting up with members of a search team — famished but otherwise in good shape, police said.

The two students, on a foreign study program in New Zealand with University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, had planned to hike and camp for a few days at some hot springs on the country’s South Island. But heavy rains and a snowstorm during the Southern Hemisphere winter prevented the couple from being able to cross a river and return.

“Unfortunately it rained and rained, day after day, and snowed,” said Alec Brown.

Rough conditions
He said the nights were tough to take because the rain and sleet pounded down on the tarpaulin covering their sleeping hammock and the river roared — reminding them all the time of their predicament.

When they realised they were going to be stuck they started rationing. “A biscuit and jelly one day,” Brown said. Brown’s mother Lisa said she panicked when she first found out her son was missing.

“It’s too much for a mom,” she said. “Especially when they’re that far away. I just felt so helpless.” The couple’s ordeal began June 1 when friend Katie Jenkins, another student, dropped them off at a national park so they could hike in and camp for a few days.

“They were just going to the hot springs, to chill out and study for finals,” Jenkins said, adding she didn’t realise the couple were missing until eight days had passed, which is when she raised the alarm.

The couple didn’t take much food — some carrots, rice, peanut butter and trail mix, according to Police Sergeant Sean Judd, who coordinated rescue attempts.

Survival instincts
Brown said that soaking in the hot pools “helped keep us warm and slow energy loss.” It wasn’t until Sunday, Brown said, that the river finally seemed safe enough to cross again. He and Klintworth prepared for their hike out by cooking up a “good meal” of rice, marshmallows, peanut butter and chocolate, he said.

“We were climbing the mountains when we first heard the helicopter we assumed was looking for us. The copter never saw us and we walked out just fine and met up with the search and rescue by the road.”

Brown said he relied on his past experience in hiking and felt confident in the couple’s ability to survive. “I believe when you go into the bush you take your life into your own hands and need to be prepared,” he said.  

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