Rescued man spelt ‘help’ using sticks

REUNITED James Esbester with his father Mark.    Picture: Martin De Ruyter/Nelson Mail
REUNITED James Esbester with his father Mark. Picture: Martin De Ruyter/Nelson Mail

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A LOST mountain walker spelt out ‘help’ with sticks in a desperate bid to attract rescuers’ attention.

James Esbester lost his way as he hiked down Mount Luna, in Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand, as reported in The News.

Yesterday he revealed how he spent five freezing nights in the rugged terrain, unable to find his way back to civilisation and living on river water.

Fearing the worst the 30-year-old, from Clanfield, penned letters to loved ones to be given to them if he was ever found.

Fortunately a rescue helicopter spotted him standing next to the sign waving frantically – five days after he went missing.

Once he was winched up, his father Mark, who works at Percy Harrison opticians, in Southsea, was given the good news that his son was alive and well apart from a few cuts and bruises.

Mr Esbester senior said: ‘I had started to get very worried. It was fantastic to know he was finally safe.’

James revealed that for most of the days in the wilderness he could barely see. He had to take his contact lenses out on day two and could only see 2ft in front of him.

At one point he slipped 30ft cutting his arm. And for much of the time he was unable to sleep through the freezing nights and had only an emergency blanket to keep him warm.

But he wasn’t scared of being out there by himself, adding: ‘There’s not much out there that could cause any real harm to you.’

He said the letters were written when he was at his lowest point and they included ‘some things I wish I had said to them (friends and family) and never got the opportunity to’.

‘It taught me it’s best to say those things when you can,’ he said. He managed to fashion himself a shelter out of fallen branches at a clearing near the river bowl and made his ‘help’ sign. It was there he heard the roar of the helicopter which had gone well off the beaten track in a bid to find the young adventurer.

He said: ‘I was half-asleep and jumped out of the shelter and started waving my arms around.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever felt relief quite like that – it was a tad overwhelming.’

A team of more than 50 people, including the New Zealand air force and tracker dog teams, joined the New Zealand Land Search and Rescue organisation’s search for James.

James, a former pupil at St John’s College, Southsea, said: ‘They were amazing. I probably wouldn’t be alive now if it wasn’t for them.’