Searching ‘a science’

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Wanaka LandSAR operates from an impressive building, opened in 2015, in the Wanaka emergency services precinct, which includes a new police station and fire station.

Inside the building is a state-of-the-art operations centre and all the equipment required for rescuing people in an alpine environment.

It designed so volunteers can come in “in jandals and walk out fully equipped”, Wanaka SAR spokesman Phil Melchior says.

“In the past, members may have needed to go home to get gear.”

Search and rescue had changed a lot over the years and now had a professional approach using small teams of highly trained experts.

“In the past [we] would have utilised up to 100 volunteers . The call would go out .. for a search. Now we use fewer, well-trained people. Searching is a science, as well as an art,” he said.

“The days of putting 40 people into the field have gone.”

With personal locator beacons widely used in the back country, members were now more involved in rescues than searches, he said.

Volunteers were trained in everything from recognising avalanche conditions to helicopter safety, getting in and out off the skids in a mountain environment, he said.

The volume of callouts meant that members had to make a real commitment.

“We worked out that at minimum wage, members contribute about $100,000 worth of time a year.

“Many members are involved in the building industry and a callout last week included one firm where the owner and his staff were involved in the physical search.”

Wanaka LandSAR had great support from the local community which was seen when the new headquarters was built.

“We had the foundations for done for free and architecture and planning at greatly reduced cost,” he said.

The headquarters included a memorial kowhai garden to honour people who died in the back country, he said. All in a day’s work: Page 8