TOWN OF CLAYTON - A 21-year-old student from the Town of Clayton near Neenah is safe after she and her boyfriend spent nine days trapped in the New Zealand wilderness by a heavy snowstorm.
21-year-olds Erica Klintworth and Alec Brown are both students at UW Stevens Point taking part in a foreign study program in New Zealand. Now, their tale of survival is making international headlines.
Nine days ago, the couple split up from the rest of their study group to hike and camp near New Zealand's hot springs. But snowfall and heavy rains trapped the college students on the wrong side of a river, leaving them unable to cross over and return to the group.
"We were wearing hoodies, and like, just not the type of thing that you want to be wearing and have when you're stuck in a mountain storm," said Klintworth.
The two managed to survive by rationing their already-limited supply of trail mix and other food. They kept warm by soaking in the hot springs. Monday morning, the weather cleared, allowing the couple to trek back to safety. But some of the country's sear and rescue directors are criticizing the students for venturing out with so few supplies.
"I mean, there's a lot of work gone into this operation. You know, taxpayers' dollars, the use of a helicopter, and obviously, you know, the search and rescue volunteers that we use. A lot of their time's been used up over the weekend, and you know, perhaps needlessly," said Sgt. Sean Judd with West Coast Search & Rescue.
However, the two say they were prepared and used their knowledge of the outdoors to survive nine days in the harsh conditions.
"I think when it came down to it, we were a lot more prepared than everybody thought," said Klintworth.
The students are currently staying in the town of Christchurch, New Zealand. In a statement, Erica's mother says:
"...the officer in charge of the search & rescue mission kept us abreast of their efforts to find Erica and Alec, and we are grateful for their tremendous work and communication. Our relief and joy when we heard of their safe return is indescribable."