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Pensioner who survived car plunge 'amazing'

Published: 8:39AM Monday April 23, 2012 Source: ONE News

A 74-year-old woman who spent three nights alone in the bush after her car crashed down a cliff has been described as "amazing".

Whitianga pensioner Shirley Loft, who had gone missing on Thursday morning, was winched to safety yesterday.

Loft had clung to life despite enduring temperatures that plummeted to 5C and having little to eat or drink.

Local GP Dr Dan Asquith was one of the first on the scene and was stunned by what he found.

"She was incredibly calm and accepting of the situation," he told ONE News.

"Anybody surviving those circumstances is incredible, but a 74- year-old lady surviving those circumstances is just amazing."

Her brother, Des Patterson said half the township had been looking for her while she was missing.

And when he found out she has been rescued it was such a relief.

"Everyone jumped up and down and hugged each other."

In hospital yesterday, Loft told her brother that she ate berries and chewed on leaves for their moisture.

Her brother said she has always been strong-minded.

"If she sets her mind to something you can't move her.

"She obviously didn't want to die."

Patterson said Loft climbed the 200 metres to the top of the hill only to find the final few metres too steep for her to get back to the road.

It then took her half a day to descend to her mangled car wreck.

Loft frantically shouted and waved at a passing boat but the people did not see her. The next few days were spent trying to avoid sunburn by day and mosquitoes by night, Patterson said.

Rather than sleeping in her precariously positioned car, she slept under a bush.

Apart from a few clothes, all she had was a towel to keep warm.

Neighbour stumbles on pensioner

Rescuer and neighbour Geoff Gillett and his friend Valance McLaughlin stumbled across the pensioner yesterday morning after an extensive search.

The men noticed tyre tracks in gravel on the side of Black Jack Rd near Coromandel Forest Park, which disappeared down a steep ravine.

They discovered the detached bumper of Loft's crimson Ford Taurus car about 20m down.

Tired and thirsty, she was found about 200m further down the steep cliff, sitting under a tree.

Loft had cuts to her arms and legs, and bruising.

Despite her ordeal, Loft was "quite perky and with it" when they stumbled upon her.

"I was really relieved," Gillett said. "She was very chatty, which is unbelievable after spending that long in the bush."

McLaughlin climbed back up the bank to raise the alarm while Gillett stayed with Loft.

Loft was planning to move to Thames and told her brother she was going for a drive to look around the area.

She accidentally reversed down the cliff while completing a three-point-turn.

Westpac Trust recuse helicopter intensive care paramedic Chris Deacon said because her car went down the cliff in reverse, her back was supported by her seat, minimising injuries.

Gillett said she donned a warm hat, trackpants and a jacket, which were in her car, to keep warm at night, and said she slept "surprisingly well".

- with Fairfax