An injured man has been winched from a cruise ship south of Campbell Island in a daring mission in what is believed to be the furthermost rescue operation undertaken in New Zealand.
The MS Bremen crew member was winched aboard a helicopter from the Bremen in 5m to 6m swells about 100km south of Campbell Island at 3.30pm yesterday.
Two helicopters left Invercargill at 11am on the mission and returned successfully to Southland Hospital at 8.45pm.
Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter pilots Graeme Gale and Stuart Farquhar and paramedic Doug Flett, with Richard "Hannibal" Hayes and winchman Lloyd Matheson, of Southern Lakes Helicopters, undertook the marathon return flight over hundreds of kilometres of ocean to rescue the man, with only one quick stop to refuel.
The crew member is understood to have suffered a serious hand injury while aboard the Bremen but it is unknown at this stage how the injury occurred.
A Southland Hospital spokeswoman said the man was in a stable condition last night.
Mr Gale, speaking to The Southland Times shortly after arriving last night, said a last-minute decision was made to fly direct to the ship after weighing up weather conditions. "Going direct is not normally an option but we had a lot of fuel and favourable winds and we managed to get in behind a weather front," he said.
The rescue was scheduled to take place on Saturday but bad weather had slowed the ship down and kept it out of range, Mr Farquhar said.
Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokeswoman Sophie Hazelhurst said they were alerted to the incident on Friday but the ship was too far away at the time to mount a rescue mission.
The two pilots flew a distance of 815km from Invercargill to the ship believed to be the greatest distance ever travelled to undertake a rescue operation, Ms Hazelhurst said.
An operation of this distance always carried risks but every effort was undertaken to ensure the helicopter crew's safety, she said.
"There's always risks involved with long-range rescues but they're carefully managed. That's why we send two helicopters, so that you've always got a watching helicopter.
"While there are risks involved they're not asked to put themselves at risk so its carefully planned so that everyone will be safe throughout the rescue." Both helicopters were also equipped with a winch system in case one malfunctioned, she said.
The Bremen left Bluff on January 15 with 110 mainly German passengers aboard headed for a tour around the Antarctic.
In 1992, pilot William Funnell flew a rescue mission to the island to rescue a man who had been attacked by a shark. At the time the operation was believed to be unprecedented anywhere in the world in terms of single-engine helicopter operations.
- The Southland Times