People have got a lot better at tackling the outdoors over the 36 years Waikanae bush-craft search and rescue expert Sergeant Noel Bigwood has been in the game.
''Things are getting better - when I first got involved in 1977 we'd have three teams searching every month. Now, sometimes we can go six months without a search,'' Mr Bigwood said.
The Horowhenua cop today was honoured for services to land search and rescue as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit at an investiture ceremony at Government House this morning.
''I've put a lot more effort into putting search and rescue out of business than actually searching.''
Mr Bigwood has been involved with Land Search and Rescue and the Mountain Safety Council for more than 30 years and assesses bush-craft instructors for the council.
As well as being a former secretary/treasure of the Horowhenua Land Search and Rescue Committee he was also chairman of the the bush-craft technical standards committee, which sets bush-craft standards for the outdoor sector
As a search coordinator Mr Bigwood said his most testing - and haunting - mission had been the hunt for Te Papa boss Seddon Bennington and his friend Marcella Jackson, who in July 2009 were found dead and frozen just a kilometre short of Kime Hut near the Otaki Forks in the Tararua ranges.
When the pair were reported missing, four search and rescue teams comprising 14 people were deployed but stopped about 6pm when it got dark. Searchers hunkered down in a hut overnight after searching rugged terrain in waist-deep snow, heavy rain and high winds.
''The most challenging aspects were the head work and worries about the conditions I was sending people into.''
Later investigations found the pair, who died from hypothermia, had both been dead for at least 12 hours by the time a search was mounted.
''There's nothing I'd do differently - it's just a shame that for the sake of a couple of bad decisions and not having a compass two lives were needlessly lost.''
At an altitude of 1400 metres, Dr Bennington and Ms Jackson encountered 80kmh southerly winds that brought about snow, dropped temperatures to minus 20 degrees celsius and reduced visibility to almost zero.
The Tararuas have notoriously fickle and severe weather so Mr Bigwood and DOC are awaiting the right conditions to place new, high-visibility reflector poles along the track that claimed the pairs' lives.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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