No one knows exactly how Ally ended up in the water on that stormy and difficult day. But if anyone could offer an educated guess it would be Sergeant Aaron Nicholson, the Wanaka, New Zealand, LandSAR (Search and Rescue) Coordinator. The volunteer, non-government funded organization has the daunting task of providing search and rescue operations in the rugged terrain surrounding Wanaka, including Mount Aspiring Park, where Ally was lost to nature.

Sgt. Nicholson told reporters that Ally needed to negotiate the flooded track to get to her destination. “She hadn’t made a bad decision to cross the river. She’d just been walking the track and gotten to bits where the river had swelled over the track quite significantly. So she’s had to negotiate that. I would anticipate a realistic situation where she had fallen or tripped or slipped into that water,” he said.

The swollen river refused to give Ally back for 6 long days but when it finally did, it was the LandSAR Wanaka volunteers who found her. The wait was excruciating, with plenty of time for Todd to reflect on Ally’s passion for New Zealand and the physical beauty of the area. “If we didn’t find her,” Todd related, “I could be ok with her being here, in this most beautiful place that she loved”.

Nicholson felt the same way. In a note to Emily, he says, “Ally spent 6 days with us in this beautiful and remote place in the Southern Alps of New Zealand that very few people get to visit, known as the Young Valley, Makarora, Wanaka, before being found and taken home to Ohio. Part of her will always be in these mountains, so part of her stays with us forever too. For this, in a really strange and hard way to explain I am pleased.”

As one of the busiest SAR areas in New Zealand, the Wanaka crew undertakes around 50 operations per year. Over 70 volunteers donate many hundreds of hours every year to saving lives. LandSAR Wanaka receives no direct Government funding for training and equipment.
If you wish to donate to LandSAR, you can do so on-line at

Or send a check directly to:
Wanaka SAR
PO Box 119

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