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The Nelson Photo News



Woman Lost On Heaphy Track: Dangers of Ill-Prepared Tramping Trips Hit Home

Ill equipped, inexperienced, ill prepared and ill advised. Those factors led to the probable death of Mrs Roselyn Rae Tilbury, 23, an American, on the Heaphy Track near Collingwood. Mrs Tilbury and her companion, Stephen Tait, 23, a Canadian, set out to walk the Heaphy Track. Their footwear was inadequate; Mrs Tilbury wore only light moccasins. Between them they had one piece of waterproof equipment, a sheet of plastic which Mr Tait carried. Mrs Tilbury had no idea of where they were going . . . they were just walking the Heaphy Track. A person they spoke to before leaving said the track was easy to walk . . . "You could do it in a pair of jandals." Possibly it could be done but that was not very good advice. And it appears to be the only advice the pair sought. Before they had travelled a few miles Mr Tait, the faster walker, forged ahead. And then he sat down, pulled out a flute, and passed the time waiting for Mrs Tilbury to show. She never did. To add to the stupidity of the whole affair, Mr Tait spent the best part of two days looking for his companion. At least a valuable day and a half were lost by the members of the Search and Rescue organisation who immediately began a search. Heavy rain set in, rivers flooded and the search bogged down.

After the weather cleared, sweeps of the area in light air­craft and a helicopter were made. They and thorough searching revealed the same thing. Nothing. At the time of writing more than two weeks have elapsed since the woman went missing.

They had no information about the track, said Con­stable Neil Shepherd of the Nelson Police. Many hundreds of people have walked the Heaphy Track and there is a lot of information available about it."

Constable Shepherd is a Police instructor in search and rescue work and played a major role in the search. Like other experienced bushmen who spent many uncomfortable hours in miserable weather conditions try­ing to trace Mrs Tilbury, he was appalled at their lack of preparation.

And he feels that more should be done to police trampers before they start on treks. This he admits would be difficult and probably irksome to experienced trampers. And it should not be done by the police.

"Perhaps having a knowledgeable university student at each end of the track to check gear could be arranged. But I don't think it's a job for the police. The Forestry Department who open these tracks should bear some responsibility". The Police would rather check a false alarm than be involved in a real search that starts late. This was the case this time.

At a conservative estimate about 2000 man hours were involved. Add the cost of aircraft, time lost by private individuals who assisted and transport costs, and someone faces a large bill. That "someone" is Johnny Citizen. . .the taxpayer.

As Mr L. R. Kelly, the missing woman's father, said after seeing the search area, "The New Zealand bush is very rugged and unforgiving for mistakes." Mr Kelly and his son have flown back to California, convinced Mrs Tilbury is dead.

With a bit of forethought it could have been avoided.


Mrs Roselyn Tilbury


Also involved in the search were Ernie Farquhar and Bob Peters, members of the Nelson Amateur Radio Emergency Corps, (Photo: Barry Simpson).


Constable Neil Shepherd and Senior Sgt Bickley, field controller, set out on a phase of the search. (Photo, Barry Simpson)


Mr Stephen Tait, Mrs Tilbury's companion, and Shanti Verge, the daughter of Mr Tait's host at Marahau