One the 20th of November 2016 along with a friend of many years, who had alot of experience with rafts, we flew into the Boyd Airstrip in the Kaimanawa Ranges of the central north island. This was to be a 6 day trip, and seeing as the area is quite remote, we took two locator beacons with us - why two? I like to hunt and fish, and my friend likes to fish, so if I had the beacon with me hunting, and didn't return, what would my friend have done?
As things transpired, on the 2nd day, coming down through ’The Gorges' section between Gold Creek and the Ngawaporau hut we were repeatedly up ended out of our raft and nearly lost our lives, stuck under the raft, tangled with gear, bashed and thrashed until the raft got away on us. We chased it down through 3 more cascades losing more and more energy until my mate was about 100 yards ahead of me, I saw him stop on a rock and at which time I realized that if I went into that last pool - I would die.
We both had hung onto our paddles, so using mine, I worked my way upstream until I could get to the bank then clawed my way along a rock wall until opposite him, I went into the water and just managed to swim across, if he had not grabbed my paddle end, I probably would not have made it.
So, standing on that rock, on a bright benign sunny day, we had on us our Personal Locator Beacons, floatation devices, GPS, helmets, wetsuits, booties, and gloves. the raft, which had been losing its cargo as it went, was another 100 yards down the stream - stuck in the middle of a very fast section, we could see no means of getting to it without losing out lives. We looked at each other and I said to Chris "It's over" He was shaking and really stressed having had a much harder time through the last section of the white water, racing to catch up to the raft.
So we pulled out the PLB's raised the aerials and pressed the activation buttons together, mine worked right away but Chris's , after an initial burst, flashed red and stopped. We noticed it had moisture in it. The day was very hot so we set them side by side on the rock. At this point , we prepared for the possibility that we may not get picked up, so we stripped off all our gear and dried it which took about an hour, all the time wondering what it would look like if the rescue helecopter arrived overhead!
After dressing again, I realised that I had made a mistake not to have additional survival gear on our belts, we had no fire lighting gear and no shelter. In this case - niether were required as the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter arrived overhead , they flew around assessing the situation then departed. As they were accessing the situation, we folded up our PLB's and packed them, but when they flew off again, we pulled them back out and re activated them, about then, the one that was water damaged started working again as the moisture in it had turned to vapour in the heat and it worked the next time we turned it on.
As it turned out, the rescue helicopter had gone upstream to find and open tussock plateau to drop a crew member and lighten the load, on their return - the pilot did the most amazing bit of flying, very slowly edging up stream with what seemed like no more than two metres on each side of the rotors between the forest and the rock face until they hovered over our rock and we climbed aboard one at a time.
Remember, if this happens to you, there is no embarrassment to setting off one of these devices, so access your situation, and do not wait, when they rescue service receives a call, they do not know what they are facing and to be able to carry out their job in daylight hours in good conditions rather than perilously in the dark, makes your rescues much easier.
We were treated with great care and concern by a wonderful group of people who took us back to Taupo and then to the St Johns Base, there we had nothing but what we stood in, so no car keys to get into our vehicle, we spent the next few hours waiting until my wife and son arrvied to pick us up.
So in conclusion we were well equipped, world class raft, good gear, two PLBs, but thinking about the situation now, I realise we let the river dictate terms having got into an uncontrolled position we never managed to get back from due to the terrain and the circumstances. Without the back up of the PLB, the outcome could have been very different as we were only at day 2 of a six day trip, so no alarm would have been raised for 5 more days.
WEAR YOUR PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON on you NOT in your pack or raft, but ON YOU!!!!!
Tauranga New Zealand