An American mom and daughter who went missing in the New Zealand wilderness for five days have been saved after rescuers spotted "HELP" written in fern fronds on the ground.
Rachel Lloyd, a 22-year-old exchange student at Massey University in Palmerston North, and her mother, 47-year-old Carolyn Lloyd, who was visiting from North Carolina, packed water and a few snacks before setting off for a day hike in Tararua Forest Park last Tuesday.
But during their walk, the experienced hikers became confused over the trail markings. They lost sight of the trail's orange markers and instead started following blue signs, which were actually in place for pest tracking.
"It got very steep, very jungly," Rachel told the Associated Press from hospital on Monday. "The markers completely stopped after about 20 minutes but it was so steep it was physically impossible to climb back up."
They did not have equipment to keep them warm so they lay on top of each other instead and tried to sleep.
On the second day, Rachel slipped and knocked her head on a rock, leaving her struggling to walk and disorientated.
"That's when I started going downhill," she said. "I could never get dry and couldn't get warm the rest of the trip... I was trying to stay positive, and constantly praying, asking God to be with us."
They were carrying cell phones but were unable to get service. Eventually, the cell phones ran out of battery.
As the days stretched on, Rachel said she feared she would die and began telling her mom her dying wishes, such as who should get souvenirs she had purchased in New Zealand, the Associated Press reported.
"I was terrified as a mother," Carolyn said. "I was doing everything I could to keep her alive."
On the fourth day, Carolyn started making six-feet-high "HELP" signs using dead fern fronds and sticks. She crafted one sign on a creek bed and another in a clearing.
Searches were already underway for the missing mom and daughter. The alarm was raised when Carolyn did not check out of her hotel or return her rental car, and authorities found the vehicle near the trail. Family back in the U.S. had become concerned after they were unable to contact the pair.
Amalgamated Helicopters helped the search and spotted the mom and daughter's "HELP" sign on Saturday.
'"HELP" is a message that needs no explanation," the company wrote on Facebook as they shared photos of the signs. "This is exactly what pilots JD and Jamie saw when on a search for the two missing American women on Saturday."
The pilots "located the pair with arms waving in desperation," the company wrote. "Landing nearby they were met with gratitude and a sense of relief."
The women were taken to a hospital to recover.
In a message shared by the helicopter company, the Lloyd family thanked the police and search crews for bringing the duo to safety.
"We would like to express our eternal gratitude for your incredible effort and response in searching for and finding our family members," it said. "The coordinated effort put forth was exemplary. We applaud the leadership involved and the swift actions taken upon learning they were missing.
"We are half a world away, and needed to put our faith in the efforts of strangers to find our lost loved ones, but the good people of New Zealand came through for us in the most amazing way!"
Rachel said she plans on finishing the semester in New Zealand before returning to North Carolina.
"I'm feeling so, so much better," she told the AP from the hospital. "On both sides of the equator, everyone's support and love has been so overwhelming."