I’m often behind on current events. I don’t spend much time listening to New Zealand’s news media, and I don’t have much respect for a lot of it. (Some of National Radio is an exception.)
Over the weekend, I’ve been catching up with the plight of the three people who were caught at Barker Hut down in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Reportedly they were stuck behind flooded rivers and down to their last energy bar between them. They attempted to arrange a helicopter out via mountain radio, and even offered to pay for it, but were denied this after the Department of Conservation and Police decided their situation wasn’t an emergency. (Helicopters are banned in Arthur’s Pass National Park except for emergencies.)
The Press, Christchurch’s daily newspaper, sensationalised their plight when they were still stuck in the hut being denied a rescue. Once they’d returned on Thursday, reportedly having been forced to make a shockingly dangerous river crossing, The Press spent quite a lot of effort continuing to slam DOC and claiming there are flaws in the system. It makes for some quite shocking reading if you believe how The Press reported things, but I did find it enlightening to read a researched chronology of events and conditions that was put together by Graeme Kates, who lives in Arthur’s Pass and maintains a locally-focused mountaineering website. [Update 3-July-2008: Here’s an example of another story by The Press from earlier, again authored by Dan Silkstone, followed by this one a couple of days later which looks as if it’s trying to save face after generating more backlash against the paper than they might have expected.]
Graeme’s post about the subject is titled “The Wimpy Media Trio” (link now broken, see update below), and claims the party made some quite silly decisions leading up to their arrival at the hut. They also ignored weather forecasts, didn’t carry their own shelter (ie. a tent), didn’t properly research the route or have adequate maps, ate a large meal the night before they ran out of food, despite knowing they might have trouble leaving immediately, spent a lot more time talking to the media (over the radio) rather than SAR personnel, and continued to ask for a helicopter without actually checking if the level of the river was going down. The entire article makes interesting reading compared with the sensationalist media view of things.
[Update 31-Aug-2015: Graeme Kates’ account was taken down with a redesign of the website, but it can still be read in its totality thanks to the Wayback Machine.]