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Mother and daughter rescued after five days lost in New Zealand wilderness

Published 02/05/2016

Carolyn Lloyd, left, and her daughter Rachel recover at Wellington Hospital
Carolyn Lloyd, left, and her daughter Rachel recover at Wellington Hospital

An American exchange student and her mother were rescued after spending five days lost in the New Zealand wilderness when a helicopter pilot spotted huge "help" signs they had made from fern fronds.

The pair, Carolyn Lloyd, 47, and her 22-year-old daughter Rachel, from North Carolina, were plucked to safety after rescue teams saw the signs - one in a river bed, the other in a clearing - and then the two women waving frantically below.

They were airlifted to Wellington Hospital, with Rachel suffering hypothermia and undernourishment. Her mother was unscathed and was by her bedside.

As she recovered in hospital, Rachel said: "I'm feeling so, so much better. I've gotten a lot of food into me, I'm eating all the time, and just hearing my father's voice, and my brother's voice. On both sides of the equator, everyone's support and love has been so overwhelming."

Their ordeal began when they set off on a day's hiking trip in the expansive Tararua Forest Park, in Wellington. Mrs Lloyd was on a trip to see her daughter, who was completing a term studying abroad at Massey University in Palmerston North.

But after a three hour hike to the summit, they lost their way on the descent, getting stuck on a tiny ledge atop a 182-metre (600-foot) waterfall. As it got dark, they straddled a tree and lay atop one another to keep warm, keeping each other awake so they wouldn't fall over the edge.

The following day they forged ahead by scaling down the cliff next to the waterfall.

"There would be one tiny little rock, or one tiny shrub, and we'd swing to the next thing," Rachel recounted.

Once down, they followed a stream, figuring it would lead eventually to civilisation. But they were forced to keep switching sides and Rachel fell head first into the icy water, hitting her head on a rock.

"That's when I started going downhill," she said. "I could never get dry and couldn't get warm the rest of the trip."

Mrs Lloyd piggybacked her daughter at times as they continued their journey. They made camp that night in a grassy clearing. They gathered ferns and lay atop each other as they tried to keep warm in temperatures which fell close to freezing.

"At this point it was very scary," said Rachel. "I was trying to stay positive, and constantly praying, asking God to be with us."

The next day they kept following the stream but it became deep and unpassable. They turned back and found a flat area with some sun and decided to stay put.

Rachel's her health was failing and she was losing her vision and hearing. They were rationing what little food they had left, eating as little as three peanuts at a time. They were able to drink fresh water from the streams.

Mrs Lloyd came up with the idea of making the 6ft high "help" signs.

"I was like a zombie, very dizzy, disorientated and cold, in my wet clothes," said Rachel.

She was convinced she was going to die, and began relaying her last wishes to her mother.

"I was terrified as a mother," said Mrs Lloyd. "I was doing everything I could to keep her alive."

By now, authorities knew something was wrong. Mrs Lloyd had failed to check out of her hotel and return her hire car. Police had been in touch with family members back in the US, who were frantic. Authorities sent search teams into the forest.

Helicopter rescue pilot Jason Diedrichs said after four nights in freezing temperatures he thought his mission would be to recover bodies.

Then he spotted the "help" signs and the two women waving.

"To be honest, we were pretty relieved," he said.

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From Belfast Telegraph