The search and rescue operation was co-ordinated by Tasman Police District. Photo / Kieran Mckay.

‘It was like we could breathe again’ — Brother opens up about caver rescue


The brother of a woman who was rescued from the bottom of the country’s deepest sinkhole has opened up on the tense moments before she was saved.

Eric, surname withheld, told the Herald the time his family spent sitting around the kitchen table in Calgary, Canada, hoping for his younger sister Magda to be rescued halfway across the world were the “longest hours of our lives”.

A rescue team brought the 25-year-old Canadian out of Harwoods Hole, Takaka Hill, shortly before 8.30pm yesterday.

Eric said his family became worried when Magda, 10 years younger than him, failed to get in touch.

“We had set a time for her to contact me once she was done [with] the tour. The time came and went,” he said.

“I looked up Harwoods Hole [and] on the news there were reports of a trapped female caver. I called Nelson police in your wonderful country and they were with me every step of the way until they confirmed it was her.”

The time spent waiting for updates on Magda’s condition was tortuous, Eric said.

“We just felt completely helpless and at the mercy of those amazing rescue workers. New Zealand police contacted me … saying she was out and awaiting air transport.

“It was like we could breathe again.”

Eric said he and his family are grateful for the work of those involved in his sister’s recovery.

“We have a debt to those rescue workers and to your people as a whole we can never repay.

“No one asked for a second how much money she made, the colour of her skin, or by what name she calls heaven. They were just human beings with families rescuing another human being with a family.

“It seems lately the human spirit is aching with thirst. Well, our faith has been fully restored. These humans in our little patch of dirt are forever grateful and we will never forget.”

She remains in a stable condition in Nelson Hospital after suffering shoulder and hand injuries after falling 50m inside the cave.

The doctor who treated Magda said she was lucky to survive.

Dr Michael Brewer told Fairfax she suffered serious rope burns to her hand as she tried to stop her fall.

“It’s hard to imagine how you’d survive a 50m fall onto rock if she was going free-fall.”

Magda’s two companions walked out of the Starlight Cave system last night with the rescue team.

She had fallen while descending into Harwoods Hole, a 176m deep shaft.

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter helped extricate the injured caver.

The helicopter crew found the scene using night-vision goggles and then winched the woman on board. She was flown to Nelson Hospital with back, leg and arm injuries


– Story by Ben Hill/NZ Herald