Tuesday, 8 August 2006 - 3:53pm |
National News

Wellingtonian wins Police Search and Rescue award

3 min read

Wellington policeman Senior Constable Daniel O'Connell is the sixth recipient of the Lou Grant Award for excellence in and contribution to police Search and Rescue.

Senior Constable O'Connell, the Diplomatic Protection Squad representative at Parliament, has been with Wellington Police SAR for 32 years, making him one of the longest serving SAR squad members in the country.

The Lou Grant Award commemorates a popular Auckland police sergeant who died in the Eagle helicopter crash in Auckland, in November 1993. Lou's widow Cath Grant donated a bronze trophy which is awarded every two years for excellence and contribution to police SAR.

Lou Grant ran the Auckland Police SAR squad for many years, leaving SAR only to set up the Auckland Police air support unit.

Nominations were received from around the country for this year's award, and while all were worthy winners, Senior Constable O'Connell's all round contribution really stood out.

Senior Constable O'Connell started his police career in Greymouth in 1971. Two years later he transferred to Wellington and shortly afterwards joined SAR. He's worked in a variety of police positions in Wellington, all of them sanctioning his place on the SAR squad - a specialist position over and above his 'day' job.

He's worked on hundreds of SAR callouts during the past 32 years. Some notable ones include:

  • In November 1977 finding the body of a child missing from her home. Senior Constable O'Connell was involved in the search and, using his initiative, found the child's body well hidden under the floor of a Johnsonville School.  • In May 1989 Hutt Valley schoolgirl Carla Cardno went missing from near her home. Senior Constable O'Connell worked with SAR for extended periods in the search for Carla whose body was found after six weeks, buried near Pencarrow.  • Senior Constable O'Connell was also the first SAR member at the site of a mail plane crash in the Tararua Ranges in the winter of 1997. The crash site was steep, exposed and saturated with aircraft fuel. Dan stayed at the site in extremely inhospitable conditions to complete the body recovery of the pilot.

Sergeant Jo Holden, Wellington SAR coordinator, says Senior Constable O'Connell regularly takes the on-call responsibilities for the squad and has very effectively controlled many SAR operations.

"In January last year we had the rescue of tramper Louise Wilkinson in atrocious conditions from the top of the Tararua Ranges.

"Dan's timely response to the initial call from the patient helped SAR squad members to quickly find her. Louise was in a severely hypothermic condition and over the next two days Dan worked long hours to evacuate her, and ensure the team completed the mission without incident or injury."

Around the same time Senior Constable O'Connell coordinated two other significant SAR events - a search for a missing party in the Orongorongo Ranges and the rescue of a family trapped in floodwaters in the Akatarawa valley.

"Dan's developed a skill base that would be hard to match in most Police SAR squads in the country," Sergeant Holden says. "He's noted for his accuracy with navigation and distance travelled, and his air observer proficiency.

"He's flown dozens of air observer missions with the Westpac Rescue helicopter, mostly lying down on his stomach, head out the door and looking straight down at the ground or at the sea in conditions that make most people immediately airsick."

When he's not involved with SAR or other police duties, Senior Constable O'Connell can also be found at a hockey field, whistle in hand. He's a longstanding Wellington hockey referee. He's also been involved in cross country running.


Media opportunity: Senior Constable Dan O'Connell is available for photo/interview opportunity at 9am, tomorrow Wednesday, 9 August, on Parliament's forecourt. He will have the trophy with him, and the police Search and Rescue truck.

Please contact Kaye Calder, Wellington Police DHQ, tel 04 496 3464 or 0274 373 020 if you're likely to be at the photo/interview op. Dan's currently on leave so it's the only time available.