Tuesday, 21 November 2023 - 10:14am

Prickly search tests SAR skills

2 min read

News article photos (4 items)

Searchers had to contend with dense bush.
Police worked alongside LandSAR to locate the missing fishermen.
The Incident Management Team was based at the Napier Coastguard HQ.
The search was centred in the Ruahine Ranges.

​What do you get when you combine three fisherman and a dummy – no it’s not a joke, but rather the premise for the annual Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue Exercise.

Around 40 people from Police, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC) and Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) were put to the test in the weekend-long exercise.

The Operation Extra scenario revolved around three anglers who became separated and lost in the Tukituki River area in the Ruahine Ranges after a day’s fishing. The group had split up, creating two separate search operations.

One operation involved a dementia sufferer (aka Jon the dummy) wearing a Wandersearch tracker who was located 'deceased' in thick blackberry bushes after succumbing to hypothermia.

Search and Rescue team crossing a river

A second search was launched for the other two anglers who had walked upriver before getting caught in heavy rain and rising river levels.

After a night in the bush for both searchers and the ‘lost’ fishermen, the pair were found early on Sunday morning.

The Incident Management Team (IMT) was based at the Hawke’s Bay Coastguard HQ in Napier and run by a mix of Police and LandSAR staff.

Senior Constable Andy Walker, who put in months of planning for the exercise, says for some Police staff it was their first exposure to being part of the planning, operational and logistical decision making associated with a search.

He says as with all searches communications played a huge role in its success.

“AREC did a fantastic job keeping communication channels to all teams, including having teams carry the 25kg repeaters to the top of the ranges to provide coverage into the headwaters of the Tukituki,” says Andy.

He says there was a slight hiccup when overnight winds snapped an aerial, necessitating some hasty field repairs.

Andy purposely piled on the pressure on the Incident Controllers, giving them several interjections to contend with.

“These included calls from media wanting information on the search; a large group of family members launching their own search operation; a visit from Inspector Marty James questioning staffing; TOIL, costs and budgets; plus the family liaison aspects due to Jon being from Australia and being located deceased.”

He says overall it was a very successful training weekend.