Vol­un­teers show tenac­ity


It’s heartbreaking for a fam­ily to not only have a loved one go miss­ing, but for searchers to not find a body.

The 100-strong search and res­cue team, which spent a week comb­ing Catlins bush and wa­ter­ways for a miss­ing man re­cently, can take some com­fort that at least they did that.

They found the body of Stephen Lowe near McLean Falls on Wednesday last week. The Dunedin man had by then been miss­ing for more than 10 days in the Catlins Con­ser­va­tion Park.

His trail was al­ready four days old by the time an ex­ten­sive LandSAR search of the sur­round­ing area by lo­cal vol­un­teers, po­lice, spe­cial­ist dog units and wa­ter res­cue teams be­gan. Mem­bers came from Dunedin, Bal­clutha, East­ern South­land, Cen­tral Otago and North Otago, in­ci­dent man­ager se­nior con­sta­ble Mur­ray He­wit­son of Owaka said.

‘‘You al­ways start out in the hopes that they’ve hun­kered down some­where.’’

They knew from Lowe’s fam­ily that he was not overly fit, would not have been pre­pared for a night in the bush, and they roughly knew his shoe size for foot­prints.

The team worked on the as­sump­tion that he would go to the McLean Falls, a well-known Catlins at­trac­tion. They searched a 300m ra­dius, which is a stan­dard pro­ce­dure based on typ­i­cal be­hav­iour of lost peo­ple, and how far they can travel on foot.

Lowe was even­tu­ally found by one of the vol­un­teer’s search dogs, in a hol­low be­hind a fallen tree near the falls, well out­side the search ra­dius - not where searchers ex­pected him to be, He­wit­son said.

He could not com­ment on whether or not al­ter­ing the orig­i­nal search ra­dius would have made any dif­fer­ence to the out­come, but said:

‘‘We were four days be­hind and al­though we tried to re­main pos­i­tive, it be­came clear as the search went on that it would be a re­cov­ery un­less he was well pre­pared.’’

Nev­er­the­less, it was not the out­come the search and res­cue team mem­bers hoped for.

Many put in hun­dreds of hours, some of them in dense, sod­den bush and dif­fi­cult conditions.

‘‘It was an amaz­ing ef­fort. I can’t say enough about their tenac­ity.’’

He said the ex­er­cise had shown the value of vol­un­teers, and urged any­one who was in­ter­ested in be­ing part of a search and res­cue team to get in touch.

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