I was 21 and studying for my commercial Pilots license, when two young men,
Bernie and Bill arrived wanting to be flown to Hokitika. So I hired
an Auster AUG aircraft to do the flight, and set off dressed in my normal
light sports gear, Jersey and light town shoes.
We had been flying for quite a while and were in cloud. Quite suddenly
several very ragged black peaks went past our wing tip and just a few
feet beneath us. (We learned later that it was called Mount Horrible,
a very suitable name!) I opened the throttle wide. For a brief while
we broke cloud and could see way below a fairly flat area but it appeared
to have mountains all around. It seemed to me that the best thing to
was to climb up above the cloud. A mountain of rock and ice loomed straight
ahead. (The Fairie Queen) I just had time to say "hold tight",
pull on full flap and with the throttle already wide open, bring back
the stick so that the aircraft pancaked in a semi-vertical attitude
on the snow and ice ahead. The wheels hit hard. The propeller struck
the snow and stopped the motor and the tail wheel broke off so that
the spring holding it dug into the snow and stopped us sliding downwards.
I lurched forward when the aircraft hit and cut my face on a clock.
My two passengers were quite all right. I opened the door and everything
loose in the aircraft fell out and disappeared down the mountain. As
I stepped out of the aero plane I slipped and grabbed an exhaust stub
which moments before would have been red hot. It was cold. One of the
passengers put some sticking plaster on my cut, after having to chew
through to cut it. He wound the leftover piece around my ear.
We were 7200 feet up, engulfed in cloud and sleet was falling. I prayed
for help. Straight away we heard the sound of what we thought was one
of the huge South Island Rivers.
It seemed far too cold and damp to stay in the aero plane and with
the sound of what later turned out to be a waterfall to guide us, we
decided to make our way three abreast so that if one slipped he would
not take the others with him. I reached over and ripped out the compass,
which was mounted on the floor of the Auster and tied it to my belt.
I told my two companions that if I did not make it, to see to it that
what assets I had went to my girlfriend, whom I had recently proposed
The slope was so steep that we lay up against it punching our hands
into the icy snow and kicking our feet into the ice to support us. Visibility
would have been less than 50 yards. Sometimes the sound, which was leading
us, came from the left and sometimes from the right. We followed its
directions until about 10:30 a.m. when we broke through the cloud. We
were on a high bluff and possibly a thousand feet below us was a great
expanse of snow.
A long way off to the east we could see a Homestead. It was our goal.
In the meantime we had to get around the bluff and find a way into the
valley leading to the home. One of my companions started working his
way around on a very small ledge. All went well for a while until he
came to a gap. He reached above him and leant over as far as he could
then swinging his feet free he reached the other side and continued
along the very narrow ledge. The compass I was carrying on my belt got
in the way so that I could not lean in close enough to the bluff, so
I removed it and tied to the back of my belt. "If he can swing
across that gap I can also," I thought. If I fell it seemed a long
way down to the snow below. I moved my fingers across the rocks above
my head for as far as I could go then swung. Fortunately my feet reached
the other side where the small ledge continued and I was able to edge
my way along until we were on to more easy slopes.
By now we were very hungry having only had a cup of tea in a dry biscuit
at about 4 a.m. Sometime later we were stopped by a waterfall. It took
us a while to find a way around it. My shoes were becoming difficult
to wear because the heels had worn at an angle relative to that of the
About 10 hours after crashing, we reached the Homestead. There was
nobody at home. Someone had written "trucking out cattle."
on the calendar. We went outside and had a good look around. We figured
that if we walked down the valley we would meet the person coming back
in their truck and so get a lift. We did not know that "trucking
out cattle", could be two or three days of walking cattle through
to Molesworth station many miles to the north. We wrote a note and left
some money to pay for the food we had eaten. I ripped the heels of my
shoes so that I could walk reasonably comfortably again and much refreshed,
we headed more or less southwards following the river. The first time
we crossed it, it was only a stream. By dusk, when we crossed it again
it was waist deep.
Just after deciding that the safest thing to do was to pull some long
dry grass and make a bed for the night, I heard the bark of a dog followed
by a shout. The cattlemen had returned to the St James Homestead, seen
our note and had come after us on horseback, with a leg of lamb that
we were very pleased to eat. He then led us along some mountain tracks.
The country was so steep that at one stage a dog slipped off the side
of the narrow track and I heard it in the dark yelping way below. I
watched the white fetlocks of the horse in front of me to see where
to go. Bernie and Bill followed behind. We reached a musters' hut at
1 a.m. Our rescuer carried on through the night to reach a telephone
at the station, while we were able to have a much needed sleep...
The Canterbury tramping club attempted for about six weeks to get to
the aircraft, but was not able to reach it. It finally blew down. The
local deer hunters and high country station owners refused to assist
anybody who went in there saying that it was far too difficult and dangerous
a mountain to climb, yet Bill, Bernie and I, dressed unsuitable, came
God had helped my father and answered his prayer.