WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Two U.S. students trapped in the New Zealand wilderness by a snowstorm trekked back out to safety after surviving their nine-day ordeal by rationing their meager supplies of trail mix and warming themselves in hot springs.
Alec Brown and Erica Klintworth, both 21, returned to the city of Christchurch on Monday after meeting up with members of a search team – famished but otherwise in good shape, police said.
The two students, on a foreign study program in New Zealand with University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, had planned to hike and camp for a few days at some hot springs on the country's South Island. But heavy rains and a snowstorm during the Southern Hemisphere winter prevented the couple from being able to cross a river and return.
"Unfortunately it rained and rained, day after day, and snowed," Alec Brown wrote in an email to The Associated Press Monday.
He said the nights were tough to take because the rain and sleet pounded down on the tarpaulin covering their sleeping hammock and the river roared – reminding them all the time of their predicament.
When they realized they were going to be stuck they started rationing: "a biscuit and jelly one day," Brown wrote "and even less another."
Brown's mother Lisa, of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, said she panicked when she first found out her son was missing.
"It's too much for a mom," she told the AP. "Especially when they're that far away. I just felt so helpless."
She had faith that Alec, an environmental science major, knew the outdoors well enough to survive, she said, adding that Erica, who is studying graphic design, is a strong woman.