Army helped stranded tourists off Mt Ruapehu

The Defence Force was called by the family twice (3 News)
The Defence Force was called by the family twice (3 News)

The army has confirmed it sent a truck to rescue tourists after they got stuck driving up Mt Ruapehu at the weekend.

The family of four, including two teenage girls, drove their car off the marked road in Tongariro National Park and got stuck on Tukino skifield.

A spokesman for the Defence Force confirmed the stranded travellers directly contacted the Orderly Officer at Waiouru Military Camp, which is 44 kilometres from the ski field, twice on Saturday afternoon to request assistance.

"On both occasions they were advised that they should approach a civilian recovery company for assistance and were given a number for such a company."

It's unknown how the family from North America got the number for the Orderly Officer; a group of Wellington climbers who talked to them believe they first called a military contact in the United States Army.

Helen Chapman found the stranded tourists while returning to the Tukino Alpine Sports Lodge on Saturday afternoon.

"Me and a couple of the others were the last ones back and while we were walking back we saw a car stuck in what's the ski field, just underneath the lower rope tow."

They told Chapman they wanted to show their kids some snow.

"It's the first time I've seen a vehicle go past the huts," she said.

Later that evening Chapman returned to the family and offered them something to eat.

"He said that they'd arranged for someone to come and pull them out, that they were fine and they didn't need any food or shelter."

She was surprised to hear that 'someone' was the army, which said they got a third call from the family at 7:30pm to say they had not been able to get any help.

"As it was getting dark, and they had been stranded for over six hours, the Orderly Officer decided that their safety should be the prime consideration and dispatched the Unimog to render assistance," a Defence Force spokesperson says.

It took about half an hour for the Unimog to winch the family's car out and both vehicles made it off the mountain just after nightfall.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) says it is an offence to travel off formed roads and tracks under the National Park bylaws, and could attract a fine of up to $500.

There are at least seven signs along the 4WD track the family strayed from, warning them not to leave the road.

"In this case, DOC believes the tourists involved have learnt a very public lesson about their poor judgement and DOC will not be pursuing them," says DOC Services Manager Paul Carr.

And they'd have a hard time pursuing them if they did as the Defence Force didn't record any details about the family.

3 News