28 Feb 2017

Injured Canadian rescued at huge Tasman sinkhole

9:50 pm on 28 February 2017

A caver who became trapped in New Zealand's deepest vertical shaft has been successfully rescued.

Harwoods Hole near Nelson

Harwoods Hole, which is more than 170m deep, is one of the largest sinkholes in the southern hemisphere (file). Photo: DoC

Four cave rescue specialists were deployed to Harwoods Hole near Nelson earlier this afternoon.

The 25-year-old Canadian woman is understood to have moderate shoulder and hand injuries.

She was one of a party of six, and fell during an abseiling descent near the bottom of the hole.

Search and rescue coordinator John Patterson said she was lifted to the surface on a stretcher shortly after 8pm.

She would be taken to Nelson Hospital.

Mr Patterson said the process took just over an hour, and his team would have to stay at the site for some time to dismantle their rigging.

At more than 170m deep and 50m wide, the sinkhole is the largest in the southern hemisphere. It is reached by a track on Takaka Hill in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Janet Morgan, who managed guided tours at nearby Ngarua Caves, said rescuing someone from the hole was a big job.

"It's limestone marble outcrops, and it's very rocky. It's got lots of potholes everywhere. It will be big, the cave rescue team will have to have abseiling equipment, high-tech stuff."

The alarm was raised by a group in the area about 12.15pm today.

Acting Senior Sergeant Brett Currie told RNZ News there were six cavers in the group.

Mr Currie said two cavers were safely down the hole, but one became trapped part of the way down with significant hand and arm injuries.

Police said about 9.30pm that the other two cavers were being walked out of the cave system by members of the rescue team, which was expected to take about two hours.

The Fire Service and St John Ambulance were also involved in the rescue operation.

The sinkhole drops to an underground river.

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The Life Flight rescue helicopter has been taking part in rescue efforts. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Harwoods Hole warning sign

Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal