The people behind Wanaka’s LandSAR team

Pictured: At Wanaka LandSAR headquarters on Ballantyne Road last week, equipment was being packed in preparation to fly out and rescue the stranded climber. Photo: Nikki Heath

Wanaka Land Search and Rescue is one of the busiest backcountry search and rescue groups in New Zealand, averaging 45-55 operations over a busy year, mostly between the November to March period.

The 85 volunteers provide search and rescue support for any lost, missing or injured people in the Mount Aspiring National Park and the Wanaka lakes area and over the last few weeks have been involved in two operations including the most recent rescue of a 29-year-old Australian climber last week.

Approximately 20-25 members of the Wanaka Search and Rescue team were involved in the Mount Aspiring rescue operation, as well as members of the Police and helicopter pilots.

Those involved were divided between an incident management team, staff who stay at the base to work with Police and Rescue Coordination Centre NZ to run and manage the operation, and eight Alpine Cliff Rescue team members.

Hours spent on operations vary but this mountain rescue will likely come to in excess of 500 man hours, with LandSAR volunteer, Phil Melchior saying “these people are volunteers, mostly self-employed, who are actually losing income while they're doing this.”

Phil believed that everyone he knows, that is involved in one of the field groups, does so because they know one day they might need help.

He said being a part of LandSAR can be hugely disruptive to families and friendships, and partners and families of volunteers put up with a lot because of it.

SAR teams include bush, river rescue and specialist alpine, as well as a marine team covering lakes Wanaka and Hawea.

“We are Wanaka locals – climbers, hunters, kayakers, boaties and trampers who love the outdoors and who are motivated partly by the knowledge that one day it might be them that needs help,” Phil said.

“Wanaka Search and Rescue can call on some of New Zealand’s most experienced mountaineers, including professional mountain guides who give their time and expertise as volunteers along with the rest of the crew.”

Comprehensive training is given to each volunteer on search methods and tracking techniques, bushcraft and other outdoor skills, as well as survival skills and first aid.

Wanaka Search and Rescue is a registered charity which exist solely on grants and donations. It requires funding for equipment, training, radio and satellite communications, as well as for mundane essentials like insurance and power. Details on how to donate to the volunteer group can be found on wanakasar.org.nz/support-wanaka-landsar-help-us-save-a-life/.

Pictured: At Wanaka LandSAR headquarters on Ballantyne Road last week, equipment was being packed in preparation to fly out and rescue the stranded climber. Photo: Nikki Heath

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