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'When things turned to custard they made good decisions' - Rescuer explains how trampers survived

The two missing trampers who were rescued from Kahurangi National Park yesterday wouldn’t have survived without their equipment, rescuers say.

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Sergeant Malcolm York says data shows Jessica and Dion's survivability probability was low without their gear. Source: Breakfast

Dion Reynolds and Jessica O'Connor were found alive yesterday afternoon after they had been missing for 19 days. They had only planned to spend six days in the park, or less if they had run out of food.

Search and rescue teams had been looking for the pair, both 23, for the past week, though the search party had been called off for a couple days due to adverse weather.

Working with the New Zealand Defence Force, search teams were able to monitor and analyse data to decipher the probability of Jess and Dion’s survival.

Sergeant Malcolm York led the search party. He says that data is what kept the search teams going.

“There was hope in the information coming from them that if they still had their equipment, they still had shelter, there was still hope and that’s what kept us going,” says Mr York.

The search party had a fair idea of the equipment they were carrying with them after talking to friends and family, and seeing pictures of the tramping packs they use. 

“That really helped the specialists in NZDF to build that picture and that profile of their overall survivability and we knew as long as they had that gear with them, there was hope.”

Mr York told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that if it wasn’t for the gear the two had set off with, they likely wouldn’t have survived.

“I mean the survivability probability was very low without the equipment.

“You just can’t go into the back country without the right equipment, without doing the right things, without leaving your intentions.”

They were found shortly before 1pm yesterday, located in the headwaters of the Frasier stream by a search helicopter which had seen smoke, or what rescuers thought could have been smoke. 

"One of our helicopters was searching and flying along and they saw just a single puff of smoke come up - they didn’t know whether it was a cloud or what it was," says Mr York. 

He says the helicopter flew over to the smoke, which is when they found them. 

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"Before their eyes these two little faces looking up in the very deep, dark bush." 

He says the pair made good decisions and "that's what saved them".

"The reason this has been such a great outcome is that when things turned to custard they made good decisions.

"They made themselves visible, they had that fire going and that saved their lives, so well done them."