Snow traps motorists and closes roads as winter starts to bite across the country
This is a great NZ story: 36 people on a 4 wheel-drive excursion in New Zealand (in winter) [at Piano Flat] are stuck after a swift weather change and now the second helicopter rescue attempt has failed. A snow cat is called in; the Army is on the way; there are children amongst the group. I hope they are ok; but being Kiwis I’m sure they are all sticking together; there is probably a diesel fire going; and shared food; and they will tough-it-out inside the vehicles. TV News will be besides themselves with a story like this. Trust Kiwis to go 4×4-ing in the middle of winter.
Police said in a statement a Search and Rescue team were considering other options, including a New Zealand Defence Force NH90 helicopter.
It is understood a snow cat is traversing rugged terrain to reach the group. If successful, it will ferry people to seven four-wheel-drives waiting at a point 800m above sea level.
Extreme conditions are hampering the rescue of 36 people trapped in their vehicles in a remote Central Otago location. Extreme conditions are hampering the rescue of 36 people trapped in their vehicles in a remote Central Otago location. The group were caught out in harsh, wintry conditions on an off-road track at Waikaia Bush Rd above Piano Flat, near Roxburgh. They are stranded about 1400m above sea level.
Police and the National Rescue Coordination Centre were notified about 6.25pm Sunday after the group, in 13 vehicles, realised they could not continue because of the inclement weather and vehicle break-downs.
Five drivers had to leave their vehicles on the Crown Range road overnight.
Live24 NZ/Damon Forde. Those trapped are concerned about depleting fuel stocks as they try to stay warm inside their vehicles, awaiting rescue.
The area is notorious for disastrous four-wheel-drive expeditions, including the death of a passenger in 2008. The group, which includes a small number of children, spent the night in their vehicles.
Gale said the group were stranded at about 1400 metres above sea level, but the clouds were fluctuating between 600m and 900m. At 11am, Gale said the rescue helicopter crew made another unsuccessful attempt.
The helicopter could transport nine people each trip.
The weather was dictating how rescuers would reach them, he said.
“If you can’t see, you can’t fly, it’s as simple as that. If that [continues to happen], they need to take a bulldozer up and clear the road, or look at other means of going in by ground. If it does clear, the simplest thing will be to fly in, land beside them, put them in and head home.”
Meanwhile, police have involved a snow cat and the Central Otago 4WD Club in the rescue.
Club treasurer Brent Wilson said three club vehicles and four Search and Rescue vehicles had driven to an area 800m above sea level.
He said a snow cat, a vehicle often used on skifields, was cutting through the rough terrain, attempting to reach the group. It would then ferry them to the waiting four-wheel-drives that would carry them to safety.
Wilson understood the snow cat could carry as many as seven people at a time.
Earlier, MetService meteorologist Karl Loots said the outlook was not good for the group and rescuers.
About 10 centimetres of snow is expected to fall above 1000m in the area on Monday, while lesser amounts will fall down to 700m.
“There will be heavy rain below that, which won’t ease until this evening . . . so it isn’t the best forecast for them.”
Police have remained in contact with the group, believed to be from Invercargill and Winton.
“Police are very mindful that the group were not equipped to be in the area overnight and have limited supplies,” police said in a statement.
“Every effort is being made to reach them as soon as we can to ensure their wellbeing.”
The group also had a locator beacon, which enabled police to identify their location. Police would continue to monitor the situation.
Gemma Dodds was among the stranded group.
She posted on Facebook on Sunday night to say that everybody was “safe and warm”.
“Just keeping out of the weather and riding it out till help arrives.
“Weather changed pretty quick up here and we had no choice but to stay where we are.”
She said the group were worried about running low on fuel.
“Still reasonably warm in the truck, but fuel is running low now. Not really sure on rescue effort at the moment? The most we know in our truck is that weather is too bad to reach us.”
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