NZDF Receives Awards for Search and Rescue Missions

CPL Aeron Mellish, WGCDR (Rtd) Scott McKenzie, W/O Chris Mitchell and FLTLT Loic Ifrah receiving a SAR Award on behalf of No. 3 Sqn RNZAF, for a rescue off Golden Bay in 2016 at a ceremony held in Parliament, Wellington.
CPL Aeron Mellish, WGCDR (Rtd) Scott McKenzie, W/O Chris Mitchell and FLTLT Loic Ifrah receiving a SAR Award on behalf of No. 3 Sqn RNZAF, for a rescue off Golden Bay in 2016 at a ceremony held in Parliament, Wellington.

10 May 2016

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been recognised for saving the lives of five people in two search and rescue missions carried out last year.

During a ceremony held at Parliament, the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council (NZSAR) awarded a Certificate of Achievement to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) No. 3 Squadron for rescuing two tourists stranded on the Archway Rocks off Wharariki Beach in Golden Bay on 17 February 2016, in difficult conditions.

The NZSAR also recognised the key role played by the RNZAF No. 5 Squadron in the rescue of three sailors after two of the boat’s crew were killed during stormy conditions on 13-14 June, 2016.

The citation said the NZDF personnel battled “appalling” weather conditions to successfully carry out both operations.

The No. 3 Squadron NH90 crew had to deal with rain squalls, thunderstorms, three-metre waves and a cloud base reducing to 300 feet, to winch the tourists to safety.
Helicopter Loadmaster Corporal Aeron Mellish was on her first SAR mission and had 30 minutes of daylight left to complete the Wharariki Beach rescue. Conditions meant an attempt by a local rescue helicopter was not feasible.

After being winched down in 50 knot wind gusts she then had to climb round a rock face to reach the couple and get them safely on board the helicopter.

“I had been given all the tools to use in the situation from my training to become a Helicopter Loadmaster and was very confident in the crew we had flying the helicopter. But it was still very daunting,” she said.

Winch operator, Warrant Officer Chris Mitchell, said in his 14 years as a Helicopter Loadmaster, it was the most testing rescue operation he had ever been involved in.

“The position where the tourists were located meant the wind was dumping over the island and it was very turbulent.”

Once the tourists were safely attached to the winch, the pilot had to fly approximately 300 feet higher to ‘clean air’ to be stable enough to bring the couple on board.

Wing Commander Mike Cannon, Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, credited team effort for the successful rescue of the two tourists.

“Results such as this are the reason we do what we do. As a unit, we are immensely proud that these people were saved when the result could easily have been different.”

In the second operation, an RNZAF P-3K2 Orion, which was conducting fisheries patrols off the northern coast of New Zealand, was diverted to locate the stricken yacht Platino after it put out a distress call 300 nautical miles northwest of New Zealand. 

A crew member on board the vessel had been killed after being hit by the yacht’s boom, which had been damaged in heavy seas. Another crew member was lost overboard in the harsh conditions.

The surviving crew activated their distress beacon and the Orion arrived 90 minutes later and instigated communication with the crew.

Battered by strong winds and heavy swells the yacht had started taking on water. A second Orion was dispatched the following day to facilitate the rescue of the sailors by merchant vessel MV Southern Lily.

Squadron Leader Glen Donaldson, Acting Commanding Officer of No. 5 Squadron, said the teams are well-trained and always prepared to deal with the unexpected.

“It was a successful outcome achieved by regular people doing heroic work.”

Air Component Commander, Air Commodore Darryn Webb, said the NZDF was honoured to receive the awards, which recognised the skills, commitment and professionalism of its people.

“The desire to help runs through our Defence Force and for us, the true rewards are accomplishing the mission and saving lives. I’d like to commend everyone involved in these missions for a job well done.”

Fact Box:
- The NH90s and Orions flew 234 hours on 19 search and rescue missions last year.

- This represented a 60 per cent increase on the 147 flying hours recorded in 2015.

This page was last reviewed on 10 May 2017.