Hiker survived a month in hut after watching her partner die in the wilderness

Pavlina Pizova says she could not free her partner after he slipped down an icy bank and became wedged between rocks and branches.

After he died, she stayed with him through the freezing night.

It would take almost a month before Ms Pizova would be rescued from the New Zealand wilderness in an ordeal she described as “harrowing.”

The Czech tourist, who was rescued on Wednesday from a park warden’s hut on the snowed-in Routeburn Track near Queenstown, broke down in tears as she read aloud her account in halting English. 

Czech consul Vladka Kennett provided more details.

Ms Pizova’s comments came soon after rescuers retrieved the body of her partner, Ondrej Petr, 27.

The couple set out on July 26 to hike the scenic track, a 32km route that typically takes three days in the summer, but which can become treacherous in the winter months from June to August.

Ms Pizova said they made several mistakes: They did not tell anyone of their plans; they didn’t take a locator beacon; and they underestimated the winter conditions.

“All these aspects contributed to our tragedy,” she said.

“The conditions were extreme. We encountered heavy snowfall and low cloud which contributed to our overnighting in the open. In our attempt to reach the hut, the tragic accident happened.”

Ms Kennett said Mr Petr fell down the slope.

“Pavlina slipped behind him, and was unable to help him out, and that was it,” said Ms Kennett. 

“She stayed with him for the first night, beside him, because first of all she wanted to be with him, and she couldn’t move any farther due to the weather conditions.”

MS Kennett said Ms Pizova spent another night outdoors as she remained lost in the deep snow. She rubbed her feet and tried to keep her blood circulating, and wore all the clothes and blankets she had.

Ms Pizova says she finally found her way to the Lake Mackenzie Hut and broke into the warden’s quarters through a window. 

She says she tried to hike out several times but her frost-bitten feet and the avalanches she witnessed discouraged her.

Ms Pizova would end up spending nearly a month at the hut. She used ash to fashion a letter ‘H’ in the snow to signal for help, but other hikers were avoiding the route, and the planes and helicopters she waved at never saw her.

Ms Kennett said Ms Pizova survived on food left behind by the wardens, who do not live there during the winter.

It took weeks before friends and family realised the couple was missing and raised the alarm. On Wednesday, the Czech consulate informed police, who began a search the same day.


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