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