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Survival thanks to a PLB


We were four very experienced trampers heading over to the West Coast for a weekend trip. The plan was to drive to Hokitika, on to the start of the track and walk in to Boo Boo Hut for the night. The following day was going to be a day trip up to Pinnacle Biv and Crinkle Top.

Myself, just under 40 years, and three others who were in there 60’s were really looking forward to the trip. One member had regaled us on many occasions with the story of how this hut had go it’s name. Long story short, the name relates to a bothced food-drop in the 1950’s. Prior to the hut, it was the site of a deer cullers camp. Unfortunately the entire supply of cheddar and 128 tins of raspberry jam, destined for all the camps in the Kokatahi, we mistakenly dropped here, and hence the name Boo Boo.

Between the four of us, we carried three Personal Locator Beacons (PLB), it was a vital precaution which definitely saved a life.

From the vehicle the track to Boo Boo Hut follows the Kokatahi River until a bridge is reached shortly before the gorge. From here the track begins to climb above the gorge, in places it was quite steep requiring each of us to use tree roots to clamber over trickier sections.

After about an hour of climbing, Rob began to slow with pain in his chest. At the time not much was thought of it as he had not long returned from a trip to China where he had picked up a slight cold, not to mention the stop off at the Sheffield Pie Shop and Hokitika for cheese toasties for lunch. At most it was put down to a bit of indigestion.

Myself and Dean decided to continue on and reached the hut at 6.00pm, I set about getting the fire going so we could offer the Lyall and Rob a hot cuppa when they arrived, meanwhile Dean headed back down the track to take Rob’s pack.

By the time Dean reached Rob, he was in severe discomfort, they all arrived at the hut at 6.45pm. We got Rob settled in the hut as best we could with a warm drink and a bunk to stretch/sit/lie on. The rest of us were discussing what the problem could be such as indigestion, heart attached and angina. Eventually at 8.40pm with Rob not getting any better I activated my beacon. I should mention that prior to the activation, we discussed which beacon to use, Dean’s battery had expired and Lyall’s contacts may not be available.

At 9.00pm, the first phone call was made from the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) to my first contact on the list, who confirmed the activation must be intentional and due to a legitimate emergency, as both Rob and Lyall are members of Search and Rescue.

The helicopter arrived at about 10.00pm and winched down a medic to assess the Rob before he was transported to Greymouth Hospital where he was later diagnosed as having suffered an historical heart attack while tramping in to Boo Boo Hut. Rob was flown to Christchurch Hospital the next day and received one stent, but was told that his high level of fitness meant that he should be able to tramping again within one week.

If there is one piece of kit that should automatically be in your pack, no matter the trip, it should always be a PLB. You never know when you will need it to save your life or the life of someone else.