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.