New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards
From: Jon McQueen, National Development and Fundraising Manager, New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Incorporated:
On Tuesday 18 May 2021, the Hon Michael Wood, Minister for Transport presented the 2020 New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards.
These awards are presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievements within New Zealand’s Search and Rescue region, which covers 30 million square kilometres.
Awards given in the Support category recognise the contributions of individuals to Search and Rescue in New Zealand.
Reference: NZSAR OPERATIONAL ACTIVITY Certificate of achievement:
Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO)
Taupō Police SAR Squad
National Park Police SAR Squad
Tukino Ski Patrol
For the rescue of nine climbers from the Whangaehu Glacier on Mt Ruapehu on 26-27 September 2020
Shortly before 1pm on Saturday 26 September, police were notified that a climber had fallen 200 vertical metres into the Whangaehu Glacier on Mt Ruapehu. The woman was part of a climbing party who were practising their mountaineering skills at approximately 2500m (8200ft).
The weather conditions were deteriorating rapidly, and the injured climber’s eight companions were not able to rescue her or themselves. The local rescue helicopter was unable to reach the accident scene due to the strong winds. Police mobilised the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), LandSAR Turangi and Tukino Ski Patrol for a ground rescue.
During the afternoon and early evening five rescue teams, comprising 22 people, were deployed up the mountain. The first rescue team member reached the injured woman around 5.30pm and immediately started preparing for a stretcher carry.
Over the next 7.5 hours the rescue teams worked to bring the injured climber and her companions off the mountain in rapidly deteriorating weather, with gale force winds and rain. Cloud descended the mountain as nightfall came, obliterating any chance of a second attempt at a helicopter rescue.
The injured woman was placed in a stretcher which had to be carried up out of the Whangaehu Glacier using ropes and a belay system. Rescue teams worked together to pre-rig sections of the descent so that the rescue could be expedited as quickly as possible.
Sergeant Toby Officer of Taupo Police Search and Rescue, Bay of Plenty Districts says “This was an extremely challenging rescue operation only achievable with the skills and experience of the members of Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), Tukino Ski Patrol and LandSAR Turangi. It is a great example of partnership, with multiple civilian Search and Rescue Teams and Police SAR squads from two Districts.”
‘Senior Constable Conrad Smith of National Park Central Districts Police says, “Having the confidence to initiate a SAR operation in such extreme circumstances, illustrates the importance of prior collaboration and training between Police staff and LandSAR Groups from two different Police districts. With risks present, such as a night-time alpine environment, very high winds, ice, cliffs, rope systems and stretchers, such as this was, you need to know and trust the people you are working with.”
A Search and Rescue Incident Control Point was set up at a ski lodge in Tukino Village by the National Park and Taupō Police SAR squads.
The 8 remaining members of the climbing party, accompanied by rescuers arrived at Tukino village just before midnight. The rescue party, with Emma Langley arrived just after. Tragically, Emma had sustained serious injuries during her fall and was pronounced dead on her arrival at Tukino Village.
The operation to bring home Emma Langley (who had taken a big fall and sustained serious injuries) and eight of her climbing companions from high on Mt Ruapehu with the knowledge of a forecasted weather bomb to arrive was a truly heroic effort by all involved. It epitomises the community spirit and good will of trained and skilled LandSAR volunteers in support of the SAR lead agency, NZ Police.
This is when there are no other resources “than boots on the ground” that can get “the job done” and with “no questions asked”, and no recognition initially sought. During the operation there were many challenges and hurdles to overcome, calculated and considered risks were taken to ensure everyone returned home safely. It was an outstanding and exemplary team effort and hence organisations were nominated and not individuals – because SAR is all about teamwork.