Tia’s recovery

Tia McRae (right) and her mum, Lee.

The Manapouri teen who was stranded for two days after crashing her car off the side of a highway earlier this year is adding her voice to the debate around air emergency services.

On January 1, 18-year-old Tia McRae, of Manapouri, crashed her car down a hidden-from-sight gorge along the Te Anau-Manapouri Highway towards Mossburn. 

Her mum, Lee, said she knew something was wrong when her daughter didn't come back by the time she said she would that day, around 2.30pm. Soon the alarm bells went off and news of her disappearance spread quickly over social media. 

Both police and volunteers were involved in the search effort, which Mrs McRae said extended as far as Gore, Invercargill and Balclutha.

"It was amazing having the support of the community," Mrs McRae said.

"They were just driving day and night. They weren't resting."

The breakthrough came two days later on January 3. Sergeant Tod Hollebon said police received a call from a member of the public who thought they had seen vehicle tracks leading over a bank along the highway in the general vicinity of Miss McRae's crash. 

At the same time semi-retired dairy farmer Bryce McKenzie, of Pomahaka near Tapanui, fortuitously decided to go fishing at the stream where Miss McRae was stranded, and found her.

After checking Miss McRae's vital signs, Mr McKenzie called emergency services where police arrived soon after, followed by ambulance, fire and an air emergency helicopter that took her to Dunedin Hospital.

The crash left her suffering a fractured neck and shattered skull, along with severe sunburn and dehydration.

Miss McRae's January crash near Waydon Burn, where she lay undiscovered for two days, is still under investigation. PHOTO: Supplied

Miss McRae remained in Dunedin until the end of February, and is still taking her recovery each day as it comes back in Manapouri. 

"It's been quite good. I've been recovering a lot faster than normally for the average person."

Earlier this month it was reported that the Ministry of Health and ACC released a request for proposals that removed Te Anau as a base of air emergency operations.

The proposal has prompted outrage from many Southlanders who see Te Anau as a critical location to dispatch air rescue services.

Amidst the debate, Mrs McRae said the air emergency services that helped bring her daughter to Dunedin were a vital part to her survival.

"The helicopter picked her up from the scene," Mrs McRae said.

"He had to land down by the creek where she was. It wasn't a very good place to access."

Tia and Lee also said it was a good measure that guard rails had since been installed at the site of her crash near Waydon Burn, although the NZTA said the rails were part of already planned safety works taking place between Five Rivers and Te Anau.

The support from the community throughout was greatly appreciated, Mrs McRae said. Mr McKenzie had even stayed in touch with Tia and her family through her recovery, even bringing her KFC in hospital when he found out it was one of her favourites.

"She's amazed a lot of people how she pulled through it all," Mrs McRae said.


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