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Man uses 20-year-old beacon to call for help, 'pinging' commercial aircraft

Alpine Cliff Rescue Team member Col Rasmussen, left, talks to the stranded man who was rescued on Friday.

A 'lucky' 64-year-old Ashburton man spent two days without food waiting to be rescued from the Southern Alps after he used a discontinued 20-year-old emergency beacon to summon help.

The man was finally located near Douglas Glacier Lake on Friday, after activating a current beacon.

The older beacon, phased out nine years ago, was not picked up by satellites. Instead, its signal was picked up by several commercial aircraft.

A view of Douglas Glacier Lake, looking out to the West Coast.

The incident has prompted officials to warn those who own beacons to ensure they are up to date. 

Department of Conservation senior ranger Shirley Slatter​ said the Alpine Cliff Rescue Team was called out after a personal locator beacon was activated at the Douglas Glacier Lake at 11.15am on Friday. 

The man had been waiting two days to be rescued because he had activated his old beacon, which was not being picked up by modern satellites. 


The beacon was phased out in 2009.

The man had left Lake Ohau two weeks ago with no fixed intentions, carrying the two beacons, the second just five weeks old. 

Slatter said he decided to travel up the Landsborough Valley and down the Douglas Glacier Valley. 

"However, conditions had changed since he had done the trip many years ago and access around the lake was problematic."

The man used an old emergency position-indicating radio beacon.

The man activated the old beacon on Wednesday, and again on Thursday.

That signal had "pinged" commercial aircraft flying over the South Island, she said. 

Slatter said the experienced tramper decided to activate his new beacon, purchased in Australia, on Friday morning.

An hour and a half later, he was rescued. 

The man had run out of food and had not eaten for two days. 

"He's definitely lucky," she said. 

The man was flown to the Aoraki/Mt Cook emergency services building, where he was checked out by St John staff, and "given some food and a cup of tea". 

"He was uninjured, but hungry and lacking energy," Slatter said.

He was driven to the Hermitage Hotel and later got on a bus home to Ashburton. 

A Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) spokesman said several high-flying commercial aircraft picked up an "occasional" signal from an old beacon on Wednesday and Thursday, but because they were so high, they picked up a signal that could have originated anywhere in the lower South Island. 

Authorities were alerted to the signal by aviation officials, but the RCCNZ had received no such signal.

The difference between the man's old and new beacons could have been "life and death", the spokesman said.

 The modern beacon system was "incredibly quick". 

He urged those who owned beacons older than five years to check they were up to date.

If anyone was unsure, they could take it to a business which sold or serviced beacons to get it checked for free.







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