Tourists recount lucky escape
Four backpackers have had a remarkable escape after two vans they were sleeping in were swept away by a river that rose suddenly with heavy rain near Nelson.
The four tourists were sleeping near the Appleby Bridge when the Waimea River became their nightmare. The yellow roof of one of the vans was all that could be seen as it was swept down the river.
American tourist Steve Harper, 21, managed to rescue his guitar.
“I was very determined,” he says. “The backpack maybe I’ll lose, but not my guitar.”
He and three other tourists had parked two vans on the edge of the Waimea River by the Appleby Bridge overnight.
Jim Marshall thought the area looked alright yesterday.
“I went and looked at the river itself and it was calm and pristine and there were little eels were laying about, I was like ‘whatever, fine’.”
But during the night the river flooded. The tourists woke to find the vans taking on water.
“In five minutes, it went up like a metre,” Mr Harper says. “It was moving really fast. Our cars were attached by a clothesline, that's what doomed my van. [Mr Marshall] might have been able to get out if it hadn't been for that.”
Mr Marshall tried to drive his van to safety but couldn't.
“I was just running through my list, ‘Do I have this, do I have that?' And then it was like, ‘I can't close this door, this is getting really bad.’
“As I’m floating down all this stuff is there and I’m like, huh, there's the baking powder and the peanut butter.”
One of the vans has since been spotted in the river - almost entirely submerged, but still in one piece.
Last October a group of Nelson teens were rescued by helicopter from the same stretch of water after their four-wheel drive became stuck crossing the river.
Police say both incidents shows just how dangerous rivers can become after heavy rain.