"Always expect the unexpected" Marlborough Search and Rescue (SAR) members are reminded before they head off to search for a missing person.
It is Tuesday evening at the Marlborough Emergency Operations Centre and photographer Emma Allen and I have been invited to join a SAR monthly training session.
It will be a traditional land search practice with a stretcher deployed to carry the lost person (me) or the body (eek) back to base.
To make sure everyone knows what they will be doing, trainer and exercise referee John Urlich writes "Search techniques" on a whiteboard then lists the key points: Stretcher carrying, Sound/light line, Purposeful wandering, IMT (incident management team).
Teams of three or four will focus on one technique and John asks them to identify their specific roles in the test scenario.
A person has been reported missing, last seen around the Wither Rd area of the Taylor River. Night has fallen and obstacles include uneven ground, mud, barbed wire fences - and the river.
Emma and I join John's "purposeful wandering" team and we head off into the night. There are stars in the sky but no street lamps and team members use their torches discreetly.
On the other side of the river, the sound/light line team is following its own routine. Evenly spaced, members walk forward, pause, a whistle is blown and everyone listens. More steps are taken and torches are waved in the sky or on tall trees to illuminate the foliage.
John reminds the purposeful wanderers the rescue edict is to "take the easiest route". That's what most people do and the lost person probably will have done, too.
Muddy ground - there is lots of it - is studied for fresh footprints and ground around bushes and trees is examined for signs of someone having rested by them. Other clues can include abandoned clothing or discarded lolly wrappers.
Five such items have been randomly scattered, but only one is located, a "body" of wooden sticks stuffed into a pair of overalls lying on the riverbank.
Hamish Spence, a student attending his first SAR training exercise, makes the find and gives the alert. The news is radioed back to IMT and a GPS location given.
Emma grabs my notebook as I am ordered down the bank so the "rescue" can begin.
Torch lights shine on me and someone asks: "Are you injured?"
I tell them my ankle hurts but probably isn't broken, then regret it. Expecting others to carry me out because my ankle is a bit sore seems a misuse of resources.
Low-hanging branches are prevented from swiping me as men arrive with the stretcher. It is held securely on the sloping bank as I am gently guided on to it. Julia Eason, a SAR member for the past three months, watches closely. She has been appointed patient minder.
The sleeping bag in my back pack is pulled out and arranged protectively around my "sore" ankle.
My towel is brought out, too, and rolled into a pillow to rest my head.
For warmth, a SAR blanket on the stretcher is wrapped around me.
Someone has lifted my arms and crossed them over my chest.
It is how they will be, I guess, when an undertaker prepares me for life's final ride.
Anxious not to take me on it, my rescuers tie me securely to the stretcher and the journey home begins.
Turns are taken to share the load, individuals calling out when the weight they are bearing gets too much.
My total kilograms are not for publication but they are considerably more than the 53kg a climber weighed when rescued by Marlborough SAR in 2006. She had broken her ankle at Scots Knob near the Branch River.
Heavy fog prevented a helicopter rescue and it took the team 12 hours to carry her on a stretcher down 4kms of steep terrain. At the Blenheim base on Tuesday, the ropes are undone on my stretcher and I hop up, my ankle fully recovered. Gear is packed up, incident controller John King holds a short debrief, then announces the next meeting's exercise.
"We'll do a water crossing at the Wairau before it dries up - and while it's still cold enough to enjoy."
● For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marlborough Land Search and Rescue is strengthened by new volunteers joining.
Core values sought are:
● Integrity and honesty.
● Transparency at all levels – openness of communication and actions.
● A desire to gain quality knowledge, skills and experience for the role they fill.
● Be passionate about saving and rescuing lives in a professional and safety first manner.
● Proactive in the responsibility of maintaining the standards of fitness and currency of skills to perform their task/role. Commitment required?
● To attend at least six three-hour training nights (out of 11) and one regional weekend course or exercise a year.
● To be available for emergencies, 24-7, seven days a week and within a 30-minute response time. When this is not possible, they must notify the group of their limited response capacity. SAR roles
● Incident Management Team
● Field team member
● Field team leader
● Specialist search These roles suit people ranging from the skilled outdoors enthusiast, to the proficient administrator, personal assistant or event co-ordinator. Training Individualised training to suit each role is provided.
● Field members must attend a First Aid course, learn Processing Wilderness Clues and search techniques before they can be employed on a search operation.
Training is at the group's expense, and travel and accommodation expenses are reimbursed.
A member's commitment is purely time.
Karen King Chair, Marlborough Search and Rescue
- The Marlborough Express