Safety tips for moun­tain run­ners

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE - By JIM CHIPP

A run­ner who be­came lost in the Tararuas range for three days ought to have car­ried a per­sonal emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con, ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts.

Alas­tair Shel­ton be­came lost in the Tararua range while run­ning the Holdsworth Jumbo cir­cuit track on De­cem­ber 29.

He was lo­cated and rescued two days later on New Year’s Eve, but not be­fore a team of 95 peo­ple, three he­li­copters and two dogs had spent three days search­ing for him.

Se­nior Con­sta­ble Pete Cun­ning­ham of the Master­ton po­lice said 80 of those peo­ple were search and res­cue vol­un­teers who gave up their time for no re­ward, sup­ply­ing their own food and most used their own ve­hi­cles.

‘‘If there were ever a group of peo­ple that de­serve the ti­tle of heroes they are our search and res­cue teams,’’ he said.

Mr Shel­ton was wear­ing top of the range cloth­ing which helped keep him warm for two nights and car­ry­ing a small pack but no map or per­sonal emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con.

His gear was ad­e­quate for a two or three-hour run, Mr Cun­ning­ham said.

‘‘ His gear was not ad­e­quate when he ran off the track and the con­di­tions got wet and windy.’’

New Zealand Moun­tain Safety Coun­cil com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager An­drea Cor­ri­gan strongly rec­om­mended that tram­pers, hunters, climbers and any other land-based out­doors en­thu­si­asts carry a per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con when ven­tur­ing out­doors.

The bea­con does not de­pend on a line of sight to a re­lay tower, as cell­phones do but use satel­lites to lo­cate their po­si­tion and com­mu­ni­cate with res­cue co­or­di­na­tion cen­tres.

How­ever, they should only be ac­ti­vated in life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions, Ms Cor­ri­gan said.

Welling­ton ad­ven­ture race or­gan­iser Michael Jacques said peo­ple run­ning in the moun­tains should al­ways carry emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con.

‘‘They are avail­able now and they just should be used. It’s as sim­ple as that,’’ he said.

‘‘Any­one who has spent time in the Tararuas knows it’s a pretty fickle area, par­tic­u­larly from the Master­ton side. It just goes straight up onto the tops.’’

In con­trast to Shel­ton’s story, Lower Hutt mul­ti­sporter James Cough­brough was in­jured in the moun­tains in more dif­fi­cult ter­rain and at higher al­ti­tude while train­ing for the Speights Coast to Coast in De­cem­ber.

Cough­brough was run­ning up the De­cep­tion River val­ley when he fell and broke his an­kle.

He ac­ti­vated his emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con and a res­cue heli- copter picked him up and took him straight to Christchurch Hospi­tal.

‘‘He was in a po­ten­tially far worse area in terms of be­ing re­mote and po­ten­tially not much help coming real soon,’’ Jacques said. ‘‘He did the right thing.’’ As a min­i­mum equip­ment level, moun­tain run­ners should carry a full set of polyprops, a jacket, enough food for twice the time they ex­pect to be out and a map, he said.

‘‘And be­yond that, for cry­ing out loud, tell peo­ple where you are go­ing.’’

How­ever, Mr Cun­ning­ham said a bea­con may not have made much dif­fer­ence to the time it took to res­cue Mr Shel­ton, although it could have raised the alarm ear­lier.

Two pri­vate and one air force heli­copter were used but the weather only gave them a win­dow of about two hours when they could fly.

It took search teams four hours to reach their search area but, had the weather per­mit­ted fly­ing, it would have been 15 min­utes, he said.

‘‘We still would have the prob­lem of get­ting search and res­cue teams to walk in, or wait­ing for the wind to drop.’’

The moun­tain safety coun­cil pub­lishes an out­door safety code and five short videos ex­plain­ing it can found at www.moun­tain­safety.org.nz/Safe­tyTips. In­for­ma­tion on where to buy or hire per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­cons and other out­door emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions such as moun­tain ra­dios and satel­lite phones can be found at www.moun­tain­safety.org.nz/ out­door­comms.

Photo: FAIRFAX ME­DIA

Re­lief: Moun­tain run­ner Alas­tair Shel­ton is re­united with his wife Ju­liane Jutz at Master­ton Search and Res­cue base.

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