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Search and Rescue: by Bill McLeod

15/04/2023 3:48 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

Search and rescue

There was a mention in the paper the other day about two kids lost in the Raukumaras while hunting. They were found the next morning. This brief report did not detail the skills and contributions of the volunteer teams. It brought an earlier incident to mind.

We got a call late one night that there was a kid missing up on the Denniston Plateau. He and his cousin  had gone for a walk along the edge of the escarpment intending to go as far as a coaling incline at the southern edge of the plateau. The younger cousin turned back while the older kid kept going. The older kid had got back to their accommodation with no sign of the youngster. To complicate matters the younger kid was deaf. There were quite a number of Search and Rescue volunteers at the appointed start point at first light the next morning.

Jimmy Lawton, the supervisor at the railway workshops,  was the search controller for Westport. He was locally famous for having won a national arm wrestling competition. The final was held at the Glue Pot pub in Auckland. At the meeting point Jimmy selected team leaders, of which I was one, then assigned people to each team. I started to get concerned about the quality of staff assigned to my team. I got only the best, two outdoor education teachers from Buller High School who were outstandingly capable, a seriously skilled climber, and another of equal ability. I jokingly said to Jimmy how come I’m getting all the best staff. He said wait till you see your assignment. He dispatched teams to the various start points leaving just us. I looked around at  the possibilities he had covered then looked up from where we were. I have to say my heart sank when I looked up from our location. No, surely not. He said “yep, straight up”. A series of waterfalls came off the plateau descending what looked like vertically to where we were. The vertical height was about 400 metres. Jimmy said the kid was last seen near the top of the falls and there was a chance he had fallen. Our job was to check any places he could have fallen into. No wonder Jimmy had given me the best troops. The five of us set off to climb the face. The climbing was very demanding but we made progress. We had reached a spot not far away from the base of a waterfall but the ground between us and the base was very difficult. Geoff said he and Pete, the two teachers,  would make the climb across to check. They had just got back to report no sign when we got a radio message to say that one of the parties had found the kid walking out the way he had gone in. The absolute relief when you locate the missing party and they are well. We thankfully retraced our path back down the escarpment where we eventually met up with the other search parties. Without further ado we all went home to go about our regular work.

Jimmy took pity on me on our next SAREX, he assigned me to the control room to learn a new set of skills.

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