24 May 2016

Stranded 4WD group made 'bad call'

7:40 am on 24 May 2016

A group of off-roaders who were trapped in Central Otago overnight by heavy snow have arrived in Roxburgh.

Rescuers reached the group this afternoon and used snowcats to bring them down below the snowline.

The 4WDgroup  arrive at Roxburgh rescue centre.

The 4WDgroup arrive at Roxburgh rescue centre. Photo: RNZ / Peter Newport

They were then transferred to 4WD vehicles and a bus for the trip back to Roxburgh.

The group of 38, including two children aged six and eight, was trapped in 13 vehicles along Waikaia Bush Road northwest of Roxburgh last night.

Police said while they all seemed to be fit and well, but St John ambulance staff would examine the group before they were fed and taken back to Invercargill.

Four Wheel Drive Association southern president Russell Quin said the stranded group was not one of its members, and he felt for them.

"That would be a bad call going up there at this time, whether they looked at the weather forecast, or this has just come in quickly and caught them out - obviously it has caught them out."

Mr Quin said Waikaia Bush Road could be treacherous, but is popular in summer because it is so challenging.

The road is not much more than a rough track climbing to about 1500m on the Old Man Range, straddling Central Otago and Northern Southland.

The bus arrives at the rescue centre in Roxburgh.

The bus arrives at the rescue centre in Roxburgh. Photo: RNZ / Peter Newport

Central Otago's roading manager, Murray Hasler, said the track was one of the roughest around.

"Normally you'd be doing it when it's reasonably dry because there's some pretty treacherous bogs up the top and there's some extremely slippery areas as well.

From the forecaster it probably wasn't too surprising the conditions that have occurred up there."

Southland District Council community roading engineer Bruce Miller said the council closes the road from Queen's Birthday weekend in early June, but it wasn't early enough this time.

"The main reason it's closed is for safety, it's not because of the road condition or anything, it's to stop people going through there and causing exactly what's happened here.

You've got the civil defence call-out and a lot of people involved in it and the cost of it all."

Mr Miller said local farmers have risked their own safety pulling other ill-prepared motorists out, and people need to think more carefully about the road's risks before setting out.

A helicopter is still trying to rescue 36 people trapped in vehicles on a remote, snow-filled road in in Central Otago but it can't land.

Thirty-eight people were snowed in and spent the night in trapped in four wheel drive vehicles. Photo: SUPPLIED/whatsoninvers.nz

Group fit and well equipped

Police said everyone in the group was reported to be well.

Inspector Olaf Jenson said about 50 people were involved in the search through out the day.

"All persons are fit and well, obviously an unexpected over night stay for them but people were reasonably well equipped for the overnight stay," said Inspector Jenson.

One of the drivers set off an emergency locator beacon yesterday evening when the convoy, which includes young children, got stuck in heavy snow on a back-country trail between Alexandra and Roxburgh.

Last night, the snow prevented rescuers from reaching the group.

A helicopter is still trying to rescue 36 people trapped in vehicles on a remote, snow-filled road in in Central Otago but it can't land.

Gemma Dodd said on Facebook the group is well equipped and experienced. Photo: SUPPLIED/whatsoninvers.nz

Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust's chief pilot, Graeme Gale, said his crew almost reached the group this morning, but they were unable to land.

Mr Gale said the group had been on the Roxburgh side of Old Man Range, about one-third of the way up, at an altitude of 1400m.

Search operation Alexandra police station.Search and Rescue are poised to rescue a group stranded in four-wheel drives overnight in a remote part of Central Otago once the weather clears, police say.

Search operations at the Alexandra police station. Photo: RNZ/Peter Newport