Saving lives in the region

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There to help...Chris Hughes helped establish a team dedicated to aiding those in trouble on the region's coastline and rivers. Photo: Laura Smith

About six years ago, a team of like-minded and skilled individuals formed a group called Fiordland Marine Search and Rescue; their aim was to help save lives in the region’s waters. Laura Smith caught up with co-founder Chris Hughes for an update.

TEAM members of Fiordland Marine Search & Rescue (FMSAR) rely on community funding and fundraising.

Last month, Environment Southland (ES) councillors agreed to give $5000 to assist with costs.

Expenses were high members’ training and to buy necessary equipment.

Mr Hughes said the money was likely to go towards those costs.

Before the group came into existence, there was limited rescue capability on the region’s coast. “There was no marine search and rescue capability between Jacksons Bay in the north and Te Waewae in the south.”

When they were seen training regularly, Southern Lakes Helicopters took the group “under their wing”.

“They understood the need to not just be flying over someone but the need to get them out of the water.”

While the group was formed six years ago, it took a while for things to come together. Mr Hughes said during the past four years, there had been about 20 jobs they had been called to assist with.

“We’re probably one of the dryest water-rescue teams around. This past month has been the only time we’ve actually had to get wet, with winching, scoop netting and body recovery.”

The application to ES included two letters of support; one from Southern Lakes Helicopters and one from NZ Police southern district SAR co-ordinator Brian Benn.

Snr Sgt Benn wrote, “The skills that FMSAR members offer adds capability and reduces response times for SAR operations within the greater Fiordland area, they work closely with Southern Lakes helicopters.”

He said they were complementary to existing southern SAR resources.

“In my role as the Southern Police District SAR co-ordinator, I have no hesitation in supporting FMSAR application for funding to continue developing their capability and to provide training and equipment for their members.”

The money was granted at a full council meeting last month Southland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, was “happy” to move the recommendation to grant the money.

“I think a $5000 request is quite modest.”

The request was also noted for future discussion to be included in the Long Term Plan as an annual donation.

An example of their work was exemplified during the floods earlier this year; team members assisted with the evacuation.

Another successful operation was when a Southern Lakes Helicopter carrying three people went down in the sub-antarctic last year and the FMSAR team was sent to find them.

He had earlier been told that area would be within their range.

“Never thinking that would ever actually come about, but we went shopping for gear and we got some really good equipment… And we have been deployed as far south as the Auckland Islands.”

Team members included Brendan Soper, John Carter, Adrian Braaksma, Simm Grigg and Mr Hughes. John Hammond had retired but Beth Spargo recently joined.

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