GRANADA HILLS (CBSLA.com) — A Granada Hills man and his friends narrowly averted tragedy when the vans they were traveling in were swept away by a rising river in New Zealand.
Steve Harper, 21, was backpacking through that country with several other tourists.
While sleeping in a van, a torrential rain soaked the Waimea River, and the swollen waters overflowed and nearly trapped the tourists inside.
The group then moved their vans– under a bridge – to get away from the pouring rain but the water started to rise even more quickly.
“We went and looked and in about five minutes, the water rose about a meter,” said Harper.
Last October another group of tourists had to be rescued from the same stretch of the Waimea where Harper and his group narrowly escaped with their lives.
Amy Johnson, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, spoke to Harper’s happy mother and grandmother — they both live in California. (He’s still in New Zealand.)
Sally Peterson, Harper’s grandmother, has always supported his adventurous side. She says, “He’s always getting into some situation. But he always gets out of it, but this time it was close … really close.”
His mother, Kate Gale, also recognizes her son doesn’t travel the regular beaten path. “When he graduated high school, he was not going off to college. So I got him a one-way ticket to Katmandu. He went around Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. And this is his second trip. He’s an adventurer. So this is on par, on course for him.”
His latest journey turned into more of an obstacle course. Harper could be seen on videotape, on top of the van. As the vehicle started to go down river, he realized he had some possessions he had to have.
Harper decided he had to retrieve his guitar and his backpack as the van floated away. He thought, maybe he could do without his backpack. But his beloved guitar? “I had to get my guitar. I’m not losing my guitar.”
It had sentimental value. His mother and grandmother bought it for him years ago. Says his grandmother, “It means a lot to him.”
His mother is not so sure about her son diving into flood waters. “He’s a good swimmer, but for a guitar? You’re life is not worth a guitar.”
Harper says he isn’t sure when he will be back in California. He says there’s no need to cut the trip short just because the van is gone — he says he and his friends will just camp outside.”