Students with UW-Stevens Point survive nine days in New Zealand bush

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Two U.S. students trapped in the New Zealand wilderness by a snowstorm trekked back out to safety after surviving their nine-day ordeal by rationing their meager supplies of trail mix and warming themselves in hot springs.

Alec Brown and Erica Klintworth, both 21, returned to the city of Christchurch on Monday, June 11th after meeting up with members of a search team -- famished but otherwise in good shape, police said.

The two students, on a foreign study program in New Zealand with University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, had planned to hike and camp for a few days at some hot springs on the country's South Island.

But heavy rains and a snowstorm during the Southern Hemisphere winter prevented the couple from being able to cross a river and return.

"Unfortunately it rained and rained, day after day, and snowed,'' Alec Brown wrote in an email.

He said the nights were tough to take because the rain and sleet pounded down on the tarpaulin covering their sleeping hammock and the river roared -- reminding them all the time of their predicament.

When they realized they were going to be stuck they started rationing: "a biscuit and jelly one day,'' Brown wrote "and even less another.'' Brown's mother Lisa, of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, said she panicked when she first found out her son was missing.

Sarah Klintworth, Erica's mother, released a statement Monday, June 11th saying in part:

"Erica and Alec are two bright, level-headed and resourceful young people who have had a reasonable amount of backpacking experience. Erica took her first backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains with a Girl Scout group at age 13. She met Alec and Katie (the young woman who called the police when she realized they were missing) on a backpacking trip for incoming freshmen to UW-Stevens Point. Alec was trained in wilderness survival by the park service in Colorado where he worked in the wilderness for a summer. Erica and Alec researched backpacking in New Zealand as soon as they were accepted in the study abroad program to New Zealand through the University of Stevens Point. We did feel confident that they would keep their wits about them and problem solve their way through whatever situation faced them."