Nelson Police host canyon rescue workshop
New Zealand’s first scenario-based canyon Search and Rescue exercise was held in Motueka over the weekend and was a big success.
The exercise involved people from Police Search and Rescue, NZ Canyon Association, LandSAR, Tasman Swift Water Rescue and Fire and Emergency NZ,
On Saturday the canyon rescue teams practiced technical rescue and rigging techniques at locations based on Takaka Hill.
At 6pm members from the groups were briefed on a scenario where a party had not returned from a canyoning trip in the Ellis Creek Canyon near Tapawera.
An Incident Management Team was formed and the evening was spent planning for a Search and Rescue mission for the next day.
On Sunday morning at 9am canyon rescue teams moved into the canyon to look for the missing canyoners.
They were supported in the field by Police, Fire and Emergency NZ staff and LandSAR volunteers.
Just after 11am the two missing people were located in separate areas of the canyon with injuries that prevented them from exiting the canyon on their own.
A helicopter extraction was off limits for the exercise, so the canyon rescue teams had to treat the patients and then extract them from the canyon using advanced rope techniques.
This included lowering the patients down numerous waterfalls, up to 40 metres high, floating them
across deep pools, and passing a stretcher through very awkward, dangerous terrain.
Both patients were successfully extracted and invaluable lessons were learnt from the exercise.
Canyons are one of the most difficult places to run SAR operations as they are usually remote, always cold and high risk places to send rescuers into.
Canyon rescues provide unique challenges that require rescuers with a very specialist set of skills.
As the sport continues to grow in popularity, we expect there will be more need for these rescue groups to carry out operations such as this exercise.
For that reason, getting the specialists together with the teams that manage and support these operations was extremely valuable and has put us much further ahead in our response to these types of incidents.