Queenstown all female rescue on 'Women in Emergencies' day

by Lauren Pattemore - Oct 12, 2023

Chrissy Schreiber (left) when she conducted a rescue in the West Coast (Supplied)

An all-wāhine team completed a rescue near Wye Creek on Tuesday, coincidentally falling on the same day as Australasian Women in Emergencies Day, with rescuer Chrissy Schreiber leading the team.

When Ms Schreiber joined the Wakatipu Search and Rescue over a decade ago, it was "very much an all-boys club" and mainly hunters, but things are changing for the group, with lots of women, and different nationalities in the team.

Tuesday's rescue was the result of a tramper getting lost near Wye Creek, and Ms Schreiber says this style of rescue happens quite often, where someone has seen a walk on Instagram or online, and they're wandering around and taking photos.

Then they find themself off the track and they "literally don't know where their left and right is", Ms Schreiber says.

She got the call at 4.30pm, and as usual, headed to the spot as fast as possible, this time up in the Remarkables Conservation Area. The female team was guided by local police officer Pepper Ruston on the ground - who the lost tramper had made the call to.

They were back home within three and a half hours from when the phone call was received.

In the broader organisation, Land Search and Rescue, its 2023 recruitment was 40 percent female, and within the Wakatipu team, Ms Schreiber guesses it's at least 50 percent female.

In her time, Ms Schreiber has had some interesting rescues and also calls at random times during the day. There's been a few come through whilst she's making dinner, or getting ready for bed.

"You just drop everything and you just tell your family, your whanau and your kids - a lot of the other ladies in our group have kids, and you just literally try to rearrange everything - someone picking up the kid from daycare or school and just trying to make yourself available so that you can go on the job.

"A lot of people are really amazed by the fact people do that for some random person."

Other times, Ms Schreiber has found herself rescuing people in pretty treacherous conditions, saving people going out in bad weather, without the proper gear, or having injured themselves.

After seeing people in a lot of different states over the past 15 years, Ms Schreiber always takes the opportunity to recommend to people to make sure they are prepared when they go out, to bring an extra layer and enough to keep themselves warm.

She recommends having a personal locator beacon and always making sure you've let someone know you've gone out for a walk.

Ms Schreiber's passion for rescue started way back when she was at university, studying in Dunedin, and a member of the University of Otago's tramping club, while out in the wilderness on a club tramp, someone from the group got lost, and a search and rescue team came to find them, complete with a search helicopter.

"I was just really amazed when I heard that they were all volunteers and they had given up their time to look for our friend, who was luckily found."

To make sure she's prepared at all times, Ms Schreiber has a go-bag ready to grab for when she hears the special ringtone she has set on her phone for search and rescue calls.

After fifteen years on the team and still loving it, Ms Schreiber says she's made "friends for life" through the Wakatipu Search and Rescue team.

"Certainly, the female volunteer numbers have been coming up and it's really awesome."

Ms Schreiber says it's not unusual for a 50 percent, or 100 percent female team to perform a rescue, but it's "certainly cool" that one happened on the celebratory day for Women in Emergencies.  

Queenstown Police officer Pepper Ruston directing the search and rescue from the station on Tuesday also weighed in to say Ms Schreiber and the team did a great job 

Ms Ruston says it was "pretty incredible" how the team got the location and started the rescue within half an hour of her phone call to Ms Schreiber.

The Wakatipu Search and Rescue team are very keen and very experienced, Ms Ruston says, and Queenstown Police has "a lot of faith in them".

On this occasion, the tramper had been lost for an hour and a half before making contact with police, and Ms Ruston says she "made the right call", believing the lost tramper wasn't experienced enough to get out of the situation themself.

Support the 100 percent volunteer Wakatipu Search and Rescue team.

Main image (from left to right): Emma Hanson, Joanna Hicks-Beach and team leader Chrissy Schreiber.

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