Rescue chopper 'not a taxi service'

CAROLINE KING
Last updated 16:23 08/02/2013

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An experienced Nelson tramper activated a personal locator beacon because he was running late and wanted a ride to his car.

The 67-year-old was tramping in the headwaters of the Otoko River area when he activated the beacon about 4.30pm yesterday.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) sent the Solid Energy Rescue Helicopter from Greymouth which located the man, only to find he was uninjured.

Solid Energy Rescue Helicopter pilot Martin Shaw said the man had told the crew he had significantly underestimated the amount of time to get out of the area and was struggling with the challenging terrain. Shaw understood he was due out of the area either today or tomorrow. 

He said the man was an experienced tramper, who had even written books on the subject.

Maritime New Zealand's general manager of rescue and response services Nigel Clifford said if the beacon activation was simply because the man was late, then it was entirely inappropriate, potentially dangerous, and a clear breach of the radio regulations that apply to emergency distress beacons.

"The incident tied up a helicopter for around two-and-a-half hours, at a cost of around $10,000 to taxpayers, and more importantly meant that aircraft was unavailable for any other genuine emergency that may have arisen," he said.

"Yesterday there were two other beacon activations - one by a tramper injured in the Olivine River area, near Glenorchy, and the other by a tramper who had fallen ill just north of Glentanner, near Lake Pukaki.

"Both these activations were by people who were debilitated and at risk - it was entirely appropriate that they activated their beacons."

Clifford said everyone going tramping should carry, and register, a beacon.

"While the decision to activate a beacon is one that only the person carrying it can make... it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It is certainly not a taxi service."

Radio regulations permit the use of emergency distress beacons by general users but state they should only be used in an emergency.

Penalties for a misuse range from a formal warning to a prosecution with a maximum fine of $30,000.

Maritime New Zealand is considering what action to take over the Nelson tramper.

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- The Press

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