Tourist lucky to survive raging waterway

Woolshed Creek.
Woolshed Creek.
A French tourist swept away after slipping into a raging Woolshed Creek late on Wednesday was washed over a terrifying two waterfalls before clambering out.

The woman, originally thought to be German, stunned searchers when she walked into the Woolshed Creek car park in the Mid Canterbury high country at 7.45pm on Wednesday night - almost four hours after the alarm was raised - with only a few bumps and bruises to show for her remarkable ordeal.

Methven Search and Rescue's Don Geddes said the woman was incredibly lucky to be alive; if she had not managed to cling on to rocks and pull herself out of the water at the point she did, she could well have ended up being washed into the South Ashburton River and out to sea, lost forever.

The woman was walking the Mt Somers Walkway with her partner and they were only about 15 minutes away from their destination - Woolshed Creek hut - when she slipped into a stream which was raging due to recent rain, and was swept away.

"Where it happened, normally you can step across without even getting a splash on your boots," Mr Geddes said.

As the woman was swept away, her partner raced to Woolshed Creek hut where the alarm was raised via mountain radio shortly after 4pm and police, Methven Search and Rescue (SAR) and the alpine search and rescue team were deployed, but hopes were not high of finding her alive. It was cold, it was dark and they had no idea how far she had been swept downstream.

So searchers were amazed by the story she had to tell when they got her back to their headquarters in Methven. She'd been washed over two waterfalls - the first about four metres high and the second about 10 metres high - and into the main Woolshed Creek.

"She got churned around in there like she was in a washing machine," Mr Geddes said.

Eventually she managed to grab some rocks and clamber out of the water and make her way back to the track. She was on the wrong side of the creek to go back to the hut, so she walked the estimated two hours - in the dark - back to the walkway's car park where searchers stationed there were amazed to see her appear at the end of a bridge.

"If she had gone any further (in the water) she would have been flushed right through the canyon," Mr Geddes said.

As it turned out she was only travelled about 350 metres in total after being swept away - the first waterfall was about 150 metres along, and the other another 150 metres along.

The woman's partner was waiting in Woolshed Creek hut while the search was conducted and searchers got word to him via mountain radio that she'd been found. Searchers arrived soon after to help bring him out and the couple then had an emotional reunion at the Methven SAR headquarters.

Mr Geddes said the woman's survival was incredible.

"When we heard (she was alive) we thought 'how the hell did she get there?'. There's no way she could have been flushed through the canyon and survived," he said.

A helicopter used early in the search while there was still daylight, did spot what was believed to have been the woman's pack in a deep pool at the bottom of a waterfall, and while the woman escaped with her life, she lost all of her belongings including her passport.

The couple are believed to be on a three month holiday to New Zealand and police were assisting in getting replacement passports and credit cards.

They did not wish to speak to media yesterday but through police wished to thank all those who had helped them.

- By Erin Tasker of the Ashburton Guardian

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