'I was frozen': Czech tourist missing for a month in New Zealand recalls ordeal

new zealand czech hiker survival dnt_00012116
new zealand czech hiker survival dnt_00012116

    JUST WATCHED

    Stranded tourist recalls tale of survival in New Zealand

MUST WATCH

Stranded tourist recalls tale of survival in New Zealand 02:46

Story highlights

  • Czech hiker Pavlina Pizova has described her harrowing ordeal
  • She survived for over a month in a hut after a tragic accident killed her partner
  • Numerous attempts to signal for help or hike out were unsuccessful

(CNN)The Czech couple knew they were in trouble.

As heavy snow continued to fall, making the hiking trail they were walking on New Zealand's south island slippery and treacherous, they decided to make for a small warden's hut nearby.
    That was when tragedy struck. Ondrej Petr, 27, fell down a steep slope, becoming trapped in a heap of rocks and broken branches.
    His partner, Pavlina Pizova, also injured in the fall, attempted to help him, but he soon succumbed to his injuries and the extreme weather.
    Pizova said she huddled next to his lifeless body for almost 24 hours, wrapping herself in as many layers as she could find and hoping against hope that help would come.

    Survivor

    Finally, determined that she would not herself die, she struck out for the cabin alone, wading through deep snow covering the trail and other hiker's tracks for another two days until she found it.
    She would spend the next five weeks in the hut, surviving off its meager winter supplies and attempting to reach the outside world. She even drew a giant letter "H" in the snow with ashes from the fire, but to no avail.
    During her time in the hut, Pizova said she saw "many avalanches."
    Finally, she was found on Wednesday by a helicopter search and rescue team, who had been alerted by friends back in the Czech Republic weeks after her disappearance.
    Search and rescue teams found the missing hiker after almost five weeks.

    Deadly mistakes

    Pavlina Pizova survived for a month in a warden's hut after a hiking accident.
    Pizova described her harrowing ordeal and the tragic accident that began it in a press conference Thursday.
    "After (Petr's) death it took three nights in the open before I reached the safety of the hut. I was walking through waist deep snow and because of that the track lines were covered," she said. "My feet were frozen."
    Though she made several attempts to make it back to civilization, she always returned to the relative safety of the hut, forced back by deep snow and extreme conditions.
    "I am aware we made a few mistakes," she said, adding that they had underestimated the difficult conditions on the trail during winter, failed to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) and did not inform anyone of their intentions.
    "All these aspects contributed to our tragedy."
    Visibly emotional, Pizova thanked New Zealand police "for their efforts to bring me to safety."

    Tourists from Czech Republic

    Pavlina Pizova and Ondrej Petr.
    The missing couple began to hike the popular Routeburn Track on July 28, a month before they were reported missing by the Czech Embassy.
    "It's very unusual for someone to be missing in the New Zealand bush for such a long period without it being reported," New Zealand's Otago Lakes Central Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen said.
    It wasn't clear why it took so long for anyone to notice the couple was missing.
    Pizova said she attempted to use the radio in the hut, but was unable to get it to turn on or understand English instructions on how to fix it.
    Vladka Kennett, Consul for the Czech Republic, said the hiker also attempted to signal helicopters overhead and draw a sign outside in ash.
    "I give her enormous credit, she tried really hard to get out," Kennett said, adding that Pizova now "really wants to go home, back to her family."

    Rare deaths on remote track

    Routeburn Track is popular with hikers but can be treacherous.
    New Zealand's Department of Conservation, who owned the warden's hut, said there significant hazards walking the Routeburn Track in winter.
    "Huts on the track are open but wardens' quarters are locked. Huts are not regularly checked during the off season," Department of Conservation's Wakatipu operations manager Geoff Owen said in a statement.
    A spokesman for New Zealand police said Pizova "made the right decision to stay put and wait to be rescued."
    Deaths on New Zealand's hiking trails are very rare, New Zealand Mountain Safety Council spokesman told CNN, with an average of six people dying every year.
    "To give you an understanding, annual participation in tramping is a little over 321,000 local people (on average), while for international visitors it's close to 447,000 per annum," he said.
    The spokesman said the Routeburn Track could be a difficult track to hike during the winter months.