90 years of helping the lost, the missing and the injured

Media Release: New Zealand Land Search and Rescue, 90 years of helping the lost, the missing and the injured. On 1st May 2023, New Zealand Land Search and Rescue will proudly celebrate their 90th anniversary.

Land Search and Rescue is a dedicated team of highly trained volunteers who respond to calls for assistance in locating lost, missing, and injured persons. Providing Search and Rescue services, 24/7, 365 days of the year, via the Police and Rescue Coordination Centre NZ.

From its early beginnings, the organisation has saved thousands of lives and has grown to cover our entire nation. Just as the popularity and capability of outdoor adventure spread and grew, so did the volunteers, capabilities, funding, and staff support of Land Search and Rescue.

90 years on, a large part of the organisation’s beginnings can be largely attributed to ‘The Sutch search’ of April 1933. A search that resulted after a party of four trampers who were missing for two weeks before being found, in the process the missing party had traversed almost the entire length of the Waiohine Valley in the Tararua Ranges:

[From Evening Post, 1 May 1933 AFTER A FORTNIGHT IN THE RANGES. — The four trampers who have been travelling through the Tararua Ranges since Easter Saturday, having been delayed by bad weather and swollen rivers. From left, Mr. A. H. O’Keefe, Miss M. Williams, Dr. W. B. Sutch, and Mr. E. Hill. Credit: Evening Post, 1 May 1933


This 1933 search included multiple days of effort from up to 200 people, volunteers who came from multiple Groups, supported by radio operators and aircraft.

The scale and the subsequent successful result made the Search and Rescue Operation headline news. This sparked vigorous public debate about the responsibilities of those who recreate and work outdoors and those who might search for them if they didn’t return or get into difficulties.

In 1934, New Zealand Land Search and Rescue began operating. Local Search and Rescue Groups were established, with advisers appointed by the Police. Funding was made available from a government grant, which was administered through the Police.

New Zealand Land Search and Rescue operated under this structure for some 70 years until becoming an Incorporated Society in 1994. A national committee oversaw the organisation; a Chairperson, Treasurer, five standing sub-committee Chairs plus representatives from the seven volunteer regions, Police, Federated Mountain Clubs, and the Department of Conservation. Individuals from these organisations, plus people from the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and New Zealand Speleological Society comprised the member base.


Mountain Search and Rescue- Go to book for Search and Rescue and the Mountain Safety council in the 1960’s, and put out by the Federated Mountain clubs of New Zealand.
Photographer: Emma Milburn



Officials at a search and rescue operation, 4 Dec 1958

Credit: Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

Three men, part of a search party for a lost tramper Stanley Vial, photographed circa 12 February 1951 by an Evening Post photographer.

Credit: Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library



“The dedication and selflessness of Land Search and Rescue volunteers never fails to impress me,” says Carl McOnie, Chief Executive, Land Search and Rescue. “Our volunteers willingly put themselves in challenging and extreme situations to help others, often sacrificing their own time and comfort without expecting anything in return.”

Candice Tovey is a current member of staff, as well as a volunteer for Wakatipu Land Search and Rescue. “When I joined as a field volunteer 11 years ago, I did so to give back to my community. I underestimated the huge privilege it is to volunteer alongside others; there is no greater feeling of purpose than bringing a person home to their family and friends. Our volunteers are truly humble and amazing people who I am very proud to support as a staff member, as well as volunteer.”

Graham Pomeroy, Chair of New Zealand Land Search and Rescue says, the ethos across the organisation hasn’t changed since the 1930’s. “It is to support our dedicated teams of volunteers with the very best training and equipment. To be at the forefront and to embrace the latest technology and innovation. And to never forget, everything we do is driven by achieving the best outcome for the lost, the missing and the injured.

Stretcher carry, Matukituki valley Sarex 1960’s

Credit: Roger Barrowclough photographic collection

Radio operator Matukituki valley 1960’s SAREX. 
Between 1st January 1960 and 31st December 1968

Credit: Roger Barrowclough 


A book published by Roger Bates;

Chronologically this book covers the period from when a SAR organization came into being in the 1930s, up to March 2020, briefly describing the various parties and resources involved.

For prospective members and the public, a section sets out what takes place in a search and rescue operation, and a number of case histories have been presented which give examples of various subject categories, along with what the RCCNZ and the specialist teams have to deal with.


The book has been produced by The CopyPress in Nelson.

Land Search and Rescue is very grateful to this company as it is discounting the normal selling price to enable Land Search and Rescue members to purchase it for $40 (incl. GST) plus postage. This is in recognition of the work of volunteers.

For non-members, copies are available from The CopyPress for $70 plus postage. It will be available in bookshops at a later date.

To enable a member to receive a copy of the book at the reduced cost, a member is required to produce their membership number, and the group they belong to, when ordering. If a retired member has no membership number then they need to briefly describe their earlier association with the organization. A copy can be ordered by email here.

For queries relating to the book’s content, contact Roger Bates.

For more information on the 90th anniversary contact:
Jon McQueen
Fundraising and Marketing Manager
New Zealand Land Search and Rescue


Search and Rescue historic photos thanks to Dunedin Public Libraries, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington and the Evening Post.

Additional photos and references thanks to Emma Milburn, Peter Panton, Roger Bates and Allan Sheppard.