Professionalism of Police Search and Rescue squads acknowledged

Three Police Search and Rescue (SAR) squads have been recognised for their professionalism and expertise at the annual New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards held at Government House in Wellington last night.

• West Coast and Christchurch SAR squads received a Gold Award for the rescue of a tramper from Mungo Pass in February 2021, with Christchurch SAR squad also receiving an award for the rescue of two climbers from Kaimatau / Mount Rolleston in Oct 2021.

• Whangārei Police SAR squad received recognition for the rescue of a person from Mount Parihaka

In addition, Senior Constable Mark Lendrum was recognised for his part in the rescue of four adults from the sea near Kaiaua, in the Firth of Thames in February 2021.

His Excellency Dr Richard Davies presented the 2021 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.

Gold Award – Operational for the rescue of a tramper from Mungo Pass

Awarded for a very significant contribution to search and rescue in the New Zealand Search and Rescue Region during 2021.

West Coast Police SAR Squad

Christchurch Police SAR Squad

South Westland Land Search and Rescue

Hokitika Land Search and Rescue

Methven Land Search and Rescue

Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Cliff Rescue Team

The Helicopter Line – Mt Cook

Precision Helicopters

GCH Aviation Rescue Helicopter

“What made this rescue outstanding was the collaboration across multiple agencies, the professional way the two Incident Management Teams worked together and the number of well executed search and rescue techniques,” New Zealand Search and Rescue Secretariat Director Duncan Ferner says.

“The skills, dedication and experience exhibited in the award-winning rescues are typical of the search and rescue professionals that serve New Zealand.”

Missing tramper David Jensen, who had been seriously injured from a fall six days earlier, was located on a scree slope high up on the Mungo Pass after methodical searching by all teams involved.

After finding footprints in the shingle, a check was undertaken of a nearby slope and a small bit of colour noticed, which turned out to be the tramper’s coat.

A hand slowly raised in the air indicated he was alive. He was rescued from the slope and taken to a nearby hut using a long-line setup, where he was treated for significant injuries and hypothermia.

“It was really time critical with weather due to close in. If it had been an hour later it would have been a very different story,” Christchurch SAR Squad Co-ordinator Search and Rescue Sergeant Phil Simmonds says.

“Having really experienced expert teams able to plan and execute each part of the search was key to the success.

“We had the right people doing the right jobs and working well together, to get the right result.”

Not knowing whether the tramper was on the Eastern or Western side of the Alps meant that SAR teams on both sides of the divide were required for the search.

Two Incident Management Teams working together – one Christchurch based and the other West Coast based – added to the complexity of the search.

“The highest part the terrain we were searching was really steep and foreboding – beyond the capability of most Land Search and Rescue Groups – and this is where the expertise of the Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Cliff Rescue Team came into play. They’re used to working in those high alpine environments,” Sergeant Simmonds says.

Expertise and experience were also clearly evident in the rescue that Senior Constable Mark Lendrum has been recognised for – not to mention selflessness and courage.

After spotting four people in the sea clinging onto a single seat cushion from their sunken boat, Senior Constable Lendrum conducted a ‘hover-exit’ from the Police Eagle helicopter, fitted and activated water rescue devices on all four people and assisted with their winch rescue into the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust helicopter.

He then volunteered to remain in the water so the patients could be quickly transported to hospital and was later picked up by the Coastguard vessel.

All in a day’s work for Senior Constable Lendrum who continued the rest of his shift after returning to base.

Police search and rescue experts work tirelessly with a whole network of volunteers, and many specialist organisations to reunite the lost, missing or injured with their loved ones, Police National Headquarters Manager Operations and Emergency Management Inspector Craig Rendel says.

“It’s very rewarding work when we can achieve this, and receiving these awards is fitting recognition of the expertise, professionalism and partnerships required.”

“All of the teams and individuals involved should be very proud of the recognition they have received.”

The tramper involved in the Mungo Pass rescue didn’t have a distress beacon with him – if he had taken one his time on the mountainside after his fall would have played out quite differently.

Instead of spending days waiting to be found and coming near to death, a search would have been undertaken as soon as the beacon was activated.

“The importance of taking a distress beacon with you when you are going into the great outdoors cannot be emphasised enough,” Sergeant Simmonds says.

The same goes for the marine environment. When heading out to sea make sure you have a distress beacon as part of your gear – and wear life jackets!

“This type of selfless dedication is typical of the commitment shown by Land Search and Rescue volunteers and the Police, and the entire organisation is very proud to receive this Gold Award along with the other awards received last night,” Land Search and Rescue Cheif Executive Carl McOnie says.

/NZ Police Public Release. View in full here.