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Missing hikers found after 18 days in New Zealand wilderness

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Two hikers rescued in the New Zealand wilderness Wednesday got lost in fog and exhausted their food but survived 18 days with only minor injuries, police said.

Jessica O’Connor and Dion Reynolds, both 23, had hiked into the sprawling Kahurangi National Park on May 9, intending to be gone for about five days, according to police.

But they became lost in fog within the first few days and then ran out of food, police said.

The pair chose to stay in place and were rescued by a military helicopter after crews spotted smoke from a fire the hikers had lit.

“This is a fantastic outcome and one that we were all hoping for, although we were becoming increasingly concerned as the days progressed," said police area commander Paul Borrell in a statement.

The pair's disappearance sparked a large search involving 50 people, including five tracking experts, three dog teams and two helicopter crews. Police said the search was was difficult because the area was remote, rugged and forested.

Bad weather earlier this week had hampered the search and raised more concerns about the pair's safety.

St John ambulance spokesperson Ngaire Jones said the pair was brought by the helicopter to Nelson Airport where medics found they had only minor injuries. They were then taken to Nelson Hospital, Jones said.

Police said their condition seemed very good considering their long ordeal.

Another hiker, Heather Simpson, earlier told news organization Stuff that the pair had stopped at her campsite as they set out before continuing to hike alongside a river. She said they had seemed in good spirits and excited to go on an adventure together.

Simpson said the pair was young, fit and experienced in the wilderness, according to Stuff. She said the hikers told her they had enough food to last several days and they planned to ration it so it would last as long as possible.

At more than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres), the national park is New Zealand's second-largest, and some areas have no trails. It was one of the locations used in filming “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

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