Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Tasman Search and Rescue Exercise valuable experience for participants — No trace of tramper missing for nine years


German tramper Christian Ulf Eric Prehn missing since February 2014 - Police file photo

No trace of nine year missing tramper in ‘Operation Prehn’ 

Tasman Policeman Senior Sergeant Mark Kirkwood has just completed leading a Search and Rescue Exercise ‘Operation Prehn’ in the St Arnaud area which went from 10 February to 13 February. The Police were accompanied by a team of search and rescue volunteers mainly from Tasman and Nelson. 

As part of the exercise they were searching in the remote area of the Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Travers Saddle alpine region, for the German tramper Christian Prehn, who went missing in February 2014, nine years ago.

Each district runs a search and rescue exercise (SAREX) each year and during the planning, Senior Sergeant Mark Kirkwood said they look for a challenging environment where teams could fine tune their skills, but also an area where there was a cold case so they could search for a missing person. In this case they focused everything at trying to find the remains of German tourist Christian Prehn. 

Christian Ulf Eric Prehn was last seen near Mt Travers in the national park in February 2014.  A 19-year-old from Germany, Prehn was in New Zealand on a one-year holiday and had been tramping the Travers-Sabine Circuit alone.

Mt Travers Nelson Lakes National Park

He was last seen by two trampers on 25 February 2014, after spending the night at Upper Travers Hut. The three met on the track below Mt Travers and discussed climbing it, commenting that it would be easiest to leave your pack at the bottom and return to it after summiting the maintain.

These two trampers were the last people to see Prehn alive. 

His backpack was seen by a further two trampers on the Travers Saddle who didn’t report it to authorities and the backpack was found again several days later by a Department of Conservation worker who alerted authorities. 

Location of Mt Travers and the Upper Travers Hut

Several extensive searches were conducted in the hazardous environment, but the Search and Rescue Operation found no sign of the 19-year-old.

During the recent search exercise an incident management team, including some volunteers, was based at St Arnaud, with field teams flown into the search area by an Air Force NH90 helicopter.

The exercise involved 60 personnel, members of LandSAR (Land Search and rescue NZ), CanyonSAR

(Canyon Search and Rescue Volunteers), and the Alpine Cliff Rescue team were involved in the exercise along with members of the Police with assistance from the New Zealand Air Force and Fire and Emergency NZ.

New techniques were also utilised during the exercise - a drone team was part of the search, a CanyonSAR team explored several creeks in the area, and the Starlink satellite internet system that kept the incident management team able to view footage live from the field, almost in real time.

Police had spoken to Christian’s family in Germany about the Search and Rescue Exercise and they were “blown away" at the resources that went into the recent Search and Rescue Exercise ‘Operation Prehn,’ but sadly no trace was found of their son.

Senior Sergeant Mark Kirkwood said  “The Police-led Search and Research Exercise ‘Operation Prehn’ in Nelson Lakes National Park has concluded. No items of significance were discovered relating to the disappearance of Christian Prehn in 2014. The exercise was a valuable opportunity for Police, LANDSAR, FENZ and NZDEF to work together to further develop search and rescue capability in the Tasman District.”

Mt Travers at 2338 metres is the second highest peak in the Nelson Lakes National Park, the mountain terrain has been described as treacherously steep, consisting of rock which readily fractures.The teams scoured areas that had not been searched before, and went over previous areas of interest.

The teams were trying extremely hard to find the slightest clue of Christian Prehn and were ready to change tactics as they searched if they found something of interest in the rugged area. 

The Department of Conservation records show that 50 people remain missing in the park, all have been solo trampers. The Department website has plenty of helpful information about tramping in the area, but it doesn’t outline how dangerous the area can be if trampers don’t stay on the tracks.

Police Media Centre

Pigeon Post News Richmond, Tasman.




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