Heroic Remarkables rescuers honoured at national awards

by Kim Bowden - May 22, 2024

They often put themselves at risk to save others stuck in the Southern Lakes' big and wild backyard, and now their work has been recognised as some of the most heroic in the country.

At an awards ceremony in Parliament Tuesday the Wakatipu Land Search and Rescue team won a certificate of achievement for a dramatic overnight rescue on a wintery Remarkables last year.

At approximately 5pm on July 1 members of the group's Alpine Cliff Rescue team were called on by police to reach two climbers stranded near Single Cone.

"Facing high avalanche hazard and steep alpine terrain the rescuers displayed the upmost judgement, skill and determination to locate the climbers and escort them to safety," the presenter said of the team when presenting the award.

The lost climbers had only planned for a day trip and were caught out by a rapid change in weather.

They chose to seek what shelter they could find in the steep alpine terrain and call for assistance.

Four members of the Alpine Cliff Rescue team choppered to the scene, but failing light and 80 to 100-kilometre per hour winds prevented them from reaching the stranded pair.

Conditions that night were severe, with heavy snow falling, wind chill down to minus-15 degrees Celsius, and the avalanche danger rating at ‘high’.

The team made the call to instead attempt a rescue on foot - a mission that required constant risk management and reassessment.

They left the Remarkables ski area at 10.30pm, and four hours later they reached the stranded climbers, who were cold but unharmed.

The climbers were escorted to safety by the rescue team, arriving back at the ski area close at approximately 7.30pm.

Meanwhile, Wānaka's Jonathan Walmisley, who has been an integral part of the local Coastguard crew for more than two decades, was one of five individuals to be recognised at the awards with certificates of achievement.

Mr Walmisley joined Coastguard Wānaka Lakes in 2012, and has spent ten years as its president. 

Jonathan Walmisley joined Coastguard Wānaka Lakes in 2012.

His leadership has seen the crew double, a Marine Rescue Centre built, and better gear at the ready to meet any challenge that comes its way.

The project to build an on-shore home in Wānaka for the group involved five years of planning, including fundraising more than $1 million, with the centre opening in November 2022.

"Jonathan leads by example and is often first to volunteer. His inclusive leadership style has had a long-term positive impact on both day-to-day operations and unit culture," NZSAR said in presenting the award.

"Jonathan actively seeks feedback from his unit members and has made changes to ensure volunteer workloads are manageable. He has led the establishment of several small teams to take responsibility for a range of tasks and equipped them with well-documented processes to follow.

"His experience as a Coordinated Incident Management System instructor helped him identify the need for a shore-based incident management team. Jonathan created a local team framework and training pathway for unit members, and now the team is a highly valuable contributor to the unit’s capabilities."

In accepting the award, Mr Walmisley thanked "all the partners" of all the award recipients for allowing them to "to what we do".

The Hon Matt Doocey presented the 2023 New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards at Government House in Wellington.

The awards are presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievements within New Zealand’s Search and Rescue region, which covers 30 million square kilometres.

Duncan Ferner, New Zealand Search and Rescue Secretariat Director says, "The stories behind each award are humbling to read. Each recipient has demonstrated exceptional dedication to Search and Rescue. Their service and accomplishments are an inspiration to us all."

For the year ending December 31, 2023, there were 3,514 Search and Rescue incidents, 814 people rescued, and 62,979 operational people hours.

Main image (Supplied/Police): Members of the Alpine Cliff Rescue team during a rescue mission in backcountry near The Remarkables Ski Area, July 1 and 2, 2023.

Advertise with Crux Advertise with Crux