(Independent Director has a close shave. Moeraki Limited Director, Rodger Finlay would like to share his adventures, which led to him needing to spend three nights in Timaru Hospital with concussion, lacerations and hypothermia).
Last updated 06:26, November 7 2015

Search and rescue teams are in the Ōpihi River gorge area near Fairlie searching for two missing fishermen.

Two fishermen were forced to spend a night in near-freezing temperatures near South Canterbury’s Ōpihi Gorge, and they held each other close to stay alive.

Akaroa man, Rodger Finlay (55) and Brisbane man, Gary Wilson (60) were found around 1.15pm on Friday by search and rescue crews on the upper western reaches of the gorge near Fairlie.

“We hugged together all night,” Finlay said.

Brisbane man, Gary Wilson said the pair played a pretend round of golf to keep warm and distracted.

“And we’re proud of it,” Wilson said.

The two men shivered as temperatures dropped as low as 2 deg C. They attempted to walk 3 kilometers back through the gorge on Thursday afternoon and found it difficult.

“There was no spooning though, none of that,” Finlay said with a smile.

Rodger Finlay was swept 50 metres downstream after falling into a pool in the Ōpihi River backwards.

“We just underestimated how long it would take us to get through. We were hoofing it but it was really tough going.”

Finlay said he used the torch on his phone to guide them as darkness fell, but once that ran out he fell backwards into a pool in the river and was swept 50metres downstream.

It was then the long-time friends, who fish together twice a year, decided to hunker down.

The pair were on a guided fishing trip and earlier in the day they caught two nice brown trout and put them back, before making the decision in the afternoon to walk back west through the gorge to Fairlie.

Search co-coordinator senior constable Brent Swanson said the guide agreed to let them walk back, but when the pair had not met them on the other side by 9.30pm, raised the alarm.

A police search and rescue team combed the eastern side of the gorge on Thursday night but found no trace of Finlay and Wilson.

A morning aerial search of the upper gorge by a search and rescue helicopter, and a privately-commissioned helicopter, also found no sign of the men who had by then attempted to climb through scrub to the top of the gorge. Land search and rescue teams were deployed from Tekapō and Fairlie about 12.20pm and the men were found shortly after and brought back to Fairlie by Tekapō Helicopters.

Swanson said it was a timely reminder of the importance of a personal locator beacon in the backcountry. Neither man had food to nourish them and their dark clothing had made them difficult to spot.

That was the last thing on the pair’s minds at Fairlie Medical Centre, though Finlay said they had made all the right decisions from the moment they got lost.

Soaked from his unintended swim in the river, he was taken to Timaru Hospital for observation after he and Wilson were treated by staff for cuts and symptoms of mild hypothermia.

“I knew we would come out of it,”  Wilson said. “Rodger had his doubts but I was not going to let myself die in that situation.”

Wilson said they kept themselves moving and distracted by pretending to be members of the British royal guard and by playing a pretend round of golf against each other.

Unsurprisingly, they both ended the round well under par.

“Neither of us hit it in the bunker once,” Wilson said.
This article was published in the Timaru Herald.

Gary Wilson.

Gary Wilson.

Rodger Finlay.

Rodger Finlay.