Survivor bias

You see a YouTube video, and the hike seems a breeze. Life works out perfectly.

The weather is okay. The rivers are low. No significant obstacles or delays.

It seems like a cruisy experience.

But when you set off, the conditions turn out differently.

A sudden storm and the rivers go up. Trees come down.

It takes much longer than you planned, and food gets to low tide.

The battery on your phone is flat, so you can’t access your map. Or your phone drops in the water.

That might not occur.

But what if it does?

Every year, there are terrible stories where someone’s trip didn’t go as planned.

We don’t have “accidents” in New Zealand.

We have poor decisions.

Usually, they don’t have serious consequences, but on occasion, they are fatal.

Here are a few stories of people who didn’t survive to upload their videos.

Most were well-equipped, and when conditions deteriorated, they didn’t change their plans.

Chien Han Chee, died on 14 July 2018 on Robert Ridge on his way to Angelus Hut, despite good equipment. His story is sobering reading.

A year later, on 20 June 2019, another tramper, Tracey Smith, also died in bleak winter conditions on Robert Ridge. No Personal Locator Beacon. Some other nearby trampers in a similar situation were rescued when they used their cell phone to call for help.

The dangers of avalanches were shown with two deaths: two French Canadian men, Louis-Vincent Lessard and Etienne Lemieux. They were walking the Kepler track in early winter, the second week in July 2015, when they were both swept away by a small avalanche. Their bodies were located three weeks later.

In May 2023, Petr Cech drowned in the Wairoa River that 1000s of hikers cross safely each year. He drowned despite carrying a week of food and knowing that the weather forecast was atrocious. He could have stayed in Top Wairoa Hut for a few days to let the rain sweep through, but he thought he knew better and paid the price. Those river crossings may look benign, but that can change quickly. New Zealand’s rivers are steep, and water levels can go up extremely quickly. They also go down quickly. He would be alive if he had accepted other people’s advice and waited a day or two.

The summer before, someone was trapped in the middle of the Motueka River crossing and almost had the same fate. He managed to alert Search and Rescue to pull him from a rapidly diminishing island in the middle.

Personal Locator Beacon/Search and Rescue →