Search and rescue helicopter crews had only a signal location for each incident when responding to two separate rescue beacon alerts from South Island mountains yesterday afternoon.
The Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand arranged for two Garden City Helicopters to fly to each of the locations, in the Southern Alps and inland from Kaikoura – but could not glean any information from emergency contacts about what crews could expect on arrival.
“We need owners of rescue beacons to register and update their personal details and those of their emergency contacts,” says RCCNZ manager Mike Hill – speaking from the Pacific Search and Rescue conference in Auckland this week.
“It is much safer and more effective if we are able to pass on details to rescuers about how many people are in the party; whether they are hunting, fishing, climbing or whatever; and their intended route.”
Despite the lack of situational information, two men were successfully rescued and flown to hospital. One was a climber in a party of three with a shoulder injury who was flown to Greymouth Hospital, and the other a hunter who was taken to Christchurch Hospital with a suspected pelvis injury.
Signal pick up
Once a rescue beacon is set off and the signal is picked up by RCCNZ, staff check whether it is registered and attempt to contact the friends or family that are listed as emergency contacts.
Mr Hill says that one of these beacons was registered with an emergency contact, but that person did not know anything about the climbing trip the victim was on. The other had incomplete registration details with no phone number for the owner or emergency person listed.
He urges the owners of beacons to register them properly and to regularly check the details held are accurate. Then when heading out let emergency contacts know.
“Just send a text message to let them know you are heading off, and what you have planned. Then when you get back, send another text confirming you are home safely.
“The details we need permanently on our beacon database can be updated on the website, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org .”
Mr Hill says search and rescue personnel from throughout the Pacific are gathering in Auckland this week to discuss these safety issues.
“The value of rescue beacons, that are properly used, is a key topic on the table.”