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LETTER TO EDITOR: Search and rescue mission

Friday 11 November 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


LETTER TO EDITOR: Search and rescue mission

Dear Editor, Some observations from someone close to the person brought down off the cross island walk recently. Do not get me wrong, the SAR (search and rescue) teams are an incredibly important service for the community however some other points need to be brought to the conversations being shared over the last few weeks in the newspaper.

Regarding the incident with the 60-year-old a few weeks ago. She was an experienced tramper albeit she most likely misunderstood the intensity of the track (as many do!). She is extremely grateful to all that helped her get off the track and to the hospital. However, accidents happen, even to those who are experienced, and she slipped on the first stream after the summit, something that could happen to anyone. The two that were indeed with her on the cross island ‘walk’, decided it was best that they go for help – perhaps in hindsight, one should have stayed, but they thought they were not far from the end and could walk out, get help, and come back. However it was further than they anticipated and too far to then return. 

When the Police team arrived, comments were overheard that some had no SAR training, many, manystops were had so officers could take a vape and rest as many were not fit for the task of carrying an injured person out of rugged terrain that therefore required extra care to be taken. Some did not have bush/tramping gear on themselves and there were no ropes in the equipment they had to bring the injured person off the mountain. In fact, later, they had to wait for another group to bring ropes in. The rescuers had little equipment to ensure they were prepared in case the SAR operation took longer than anyone anticipated (and it did). The stretcher had straps but they weren’t very effective, the stretcher kept coming apart, which of course meant they would have to stop and put it back together again. That the rescue team did not seem to have food is concerning (they were eating bush tucker along the way) as this put their own safety at risk especially when a rescue can be complicated and take a long time.

When reinforcement officers arrived after several hours, they bought more water which the first team guzzled down (so again, it is concerning that they didn’t seem to have water, or not enough water for themselves in the first place). One torch failed, and not everyone had a head torch in their kit. One of the team had a head torch with three beams and this person had to stay close to the stretcher so they could light the way for everyone else once it got dark. Luckily my friend could use her pareu that she used for a sling, and had her own painkillers, as the SAR did not seem to have any equipment of this sort with them. A note from an experienced and trained SAR Kuki in Rarotonga was that the team in this instance should have brought her back via the Needle, as it would have been much shorter and easier on the rescue team (and perhaps the injured as well). This is how training in SAR reduces the risks of all involved. 

I agree we need to rethink the Cross Island ‘Walk’ as being suitable for anyone to do, but we also need to consider who we send in as rescuers and at the very least only send in those trained in SAR if an accident happens. I am sure tourists who find themselves in the unexpected situation of needing a rescue would financially support the efforts of those doing the rescuing. I think it imperative that we rename the track – this ‘walk’ is absolutely not a ‘walk’ – perhaps a trek? A tramp? 

Sincere thanks to all those that supported our friend getting off the track and home safely. This is not to criticise you but to highlight the need for training and equipment. It is important we work with correct information and that there was more to this story than has been in the newspaper. The last thing we need is to put our own people at risk by sending people on a SAR mission when they are under-resourced and under-trained. We absolutely need to warn our tourists of the risks they take on this track and that they should only go with a guide. 

Meitaki maata

Concerned citizen

(Name and address supplied)