23 Apr 2012

'Tough' woman survives three-day cliff ordeal

12:05 pm on 23 April 2012

The brother of an elderly woman who spent three days trapped on a cliff face when her car crashed says her family are overjoyed to have her back.

Shirley Loft, 74, had set off for a drive on Thursday from Whitianga in the Coromandel Peninsula. Her car left the road, plunging 100 metres down a cliff on Blackjack Road, north of the town.

She managed to crawl out of the car and wedge herself in the branches of a tree, where she remained for three days without food or water.

Her brother, Des Patterson, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme she survived by eating leaves and berries and draped a towel over herself for warmth.

Mr Patterson says his sister lost some skin from her knees trying to climb up the cliff and will be kept in Thames Hospital for a few days.

The hospital said Ms Loft was in a stable condition on Monday.

Searchers praised

Neighbour Geoff Gillett and his friend, Valance McLaughlin, began searching for her since on the day she went missing.

They spotted skid marks that appeared to be leading off a cliff, which led them to the car.

Mr Gillett says his neighbour was in good spirits when they found her and asked 'what the bloody hell are you doing here?'.

He says she had been trying to turn the car around but had backed over the cliff.

Ms Loft had hoped to get down to the sea to signal to a boat, but the steep cliff prevented her getting any further.

Constable Don Edgecombe says Mr Gillett and his friend had "without a doubt" saved the woman's life, and her family are full of praise.

"Her son was at the scene when she was rescued ... he was just ecstatic," Constable Edgecombe said.

The 74-year-old was winched to safety by a helicopter and taken to Thames Hospital with minor injuries.

The paramedic on board the helicopter, Chris Deacon, says her amazing survival is a testament to her courage and strength.

"She spent three nights out in the bush, no shelter, no water and no food. She's been remarkably tough and was surprisingly chirpy."

The bush broke the fall of the car down the very steep cliff, he said, and slowed down the vehicle.