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Search for Missing Hikers Went On for Week-Plus. Then, Smoke

Couple rescued after 19 days in New Zealand wilderness, with food to last just a week
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2020 10:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Two missing hikers have been found alive after 19 days in a New Zealand national forest. Kayak guide Jessica O'Connor and chef Dion Reynolds, both 23, were discovered in a tiny clearing in Kahurangi National Park at the north end of the South Island after a search helicopter spotted smoke from their fire on Wednesday. The couple had set off May 9 intending to spend about a week in the country's second-largest national park, an area of about 1,745 square miles, per the BBC. But they suffered injuries in a fall as they became lost in fog. They stayed put for a few days before going in search of water, per the New Zealand Herald. When they finally found it, they set up camp and lit a fire. Searchers had been scouring the area for a week and a half when the smoke was observed before 1pm local time Wednesday.

A rescue helicopter found the couple in a 10-foot-square clearing near the headwaters of a stream, per the Otago Daily Times. They were "chatty and in good spirits" but had "been without food for some time," Search and Rescue Sgt. Malcolm York tells the Herald. Still, they were well prepared with equipment for cold temperatures and "they did the right thing. They stayed put and they made themselves visible." The BBC reports the hikers hugged their rescuers, who handed over chocolate bars. O'Connor, who strained her back, and Reynolds, who strained an ankle, were both discharged from a hospital within hours of discovery and allowed to return home. O'Connor's mother described her daughter as "very emotional" after speaking to her over the phone, per the Herald. "She was in tears and couldn't talk much," she said. (Read more hikers stories.)

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