Search and rescue team members Craig Wykes, Joanne Reid and George Ellem (right).
Search and rescue team members Craig Wykes, Joanne Reid and George Ellem (right).

Bushwalkers found safe

RELIEVED father Tim Foran says he never lost hope in the bush survival skills of his son, Rain, even though he was told by rescuers to start preparing for the worst.

Rain, a 25-year-old Coffs Harbour real estate agent, and his bushwalking companion Howard Higgs, 41, a teacher from Sydney, were found safe and well by a search party at lunchtime yesterday.

The six night ordeal in the unforgiving Bellinger River National Park last night ended with a hug and a promise between father and son to never again tackle the “Rim of the World”, a treacherous trail of cliff faces, ravines and dense scrub.

“It was unbelievable news when I was told they had been found, I went from a knotted stomach and knocking back tears to being so overly relieved,” Mr Foran said.

“He was found by his mates, after we broke up the search party, near Woods Camp.

“The conditions couldn't have been worse, non-stop heavy rain, howling winds and seven degree nights.

“I was told that he may have fallen, or that the worst may have happened, but I held hope in the fact he knew the area well, given he was born on our old family property at Darkwood, not far from here.”

Mr Foran said his son was a “naturalist” and experienced hiker, who tests his bush survival skills.

“He often carries no food and just a flint and gets by, but I doubt they ate much at all,” he said.

The men filmed their trek, with the view of making a documentary on bush survival techniques.

Reunited with family and friends, who spent three days scouring rugged terrain, the bushwalkers told authorities “they had underestimated” the time needed to trek between Ebor and Thora.

They refused assistance from the Westpac Helicopter Service, saying they were never “lost” and did not know a search had been mounted.

Coffs Clarence Police and Bellingen State Emergency Service mounted the ground search after the bushwalkers failed to reach a vehicle left parked near Thora on Monday night.

Low-lying cloud cover delayed an aerial search.

A change in the weather yesterday allowed the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter to take to the skies.

Coffs Clarence Duty Officer Inspector Jo Reid said concerns were held for the men's safety, even though they were well equipped with warm clothing and camping gear.

The search, which resumed at 7am yesterday, concentrated on Winch Flat and Ebor, after ground crews canvassed the areas of Andersons and Woods creeks.

Rain's employer, Kerry Hines of Unreal Estate, said she was relieved everything was okay.

“We became concerned when Rain didn't show up for work on Wednesday, and we got in contact with the family and found out a search was under way,” Mrs Hines said.

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