Public urged to stay safe

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Wanaka LandSAR volunteers are now in their busiest season and are reminding the public to be prepared and stay safe if they are venturing into the great outdoors.

Spokesman Phil Melchior said the team was typically involved in 45 to 50 rescues a year. About 90% of these were in the summer months, he said.

“If you boil that down that’s an average of more than one a week during the busy period, which is a lot for a volunteer organisation.”

Mr Melchior said about half the rescues were carried out in the sub-alpine zone and a further 30% in the alpine area.

It had been a few years since the last multi-day search, which he put down to the rise in popularity of personal locater beacons.

“More and more people are carrying personal locater beacons with them when they go and just in the last couple of weeks we’ve had a couple of people with broken legs, that sort of thing.

“It just means that, firstly, if someone gets into trouble, they get a very quick response and, secondly, it means we know exactly where they are.”

There were also cases where people overestimated their skill level or panicked because of incoming bad weather, he said.

“We’ve had ones where people have pushed the panic button and there’s nothing wrong with them, but their skill levels were such that certainly if they’d waited another three days with bad weather coming in they would have been a real mess.

“If push comes to shove, we’d rather get people out safe and uninjured than leave them until they’re in really serious trouble and then they’re injured.”

The team helped deal with an average of seven fatalities each year, he said.

While the volunteers did not want to discourage people from exploring the outdoors and pushing their limits, it was important for people to minimise any risk.

“First of all, be ambitious if you want to be, but know what your limitations are.

“The terrain in New Zealand is often much more rugged than altitude would suggest.

“People think ‘it can’t be up to much – it’s only 2000m high’.”

People also needed to remember the weather could change dramatically in a short time and ensure they packed appropriate gear and food.

“Be prepared, be equipped, know your limitations and probably as high as any of them would be to tell people where you’re going and when you’re going to come back.

“It’s really important to let someone know where you’re going and basically say to them ‘if I’m not back by a certain date you need to raise the alarm’.”

The Wanaka base was made up of about 60 volunteers, whose skills ranged from bushcraft to kayaking and mountaineering, he said.

“We also have the Lake Hawea marine guys under our umbrella and we also work closely with Coastguard.”

Search and rescues were carried out on behalf of the police, but beacon alerts were co-ordinated by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington.

volunteers could be deployed anywhere from the edge of Fiordland up to Mt Cook.

“We try not to put people in harm’s way, but harm’s way is sometimes a matter of definition.

“What our guys are capable of and trained to deal with are things that people without that background and training consider to be in harm’s way.”