Cave rescuers applaud locator beacon

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 24/03/2014
Angela Elliott
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
WITH THANKS: Colin Campbell of Nelson Caves Search and Rescue Team, left, receives a plaque from Steve Mullin of ACR Electronics, right, for their part of the rescue of Jill Clendon after she fell 10 metres down into a cave on the Takaka Hill

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Search and rescue experts say tramping and caving mishaps in the region over summer show the importance of carrying a personal location beacon.

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust, Search and Rescue team and Nelson Cave Rescue team were thanked at a ceremony on Friday for their "heroic efforts" to rescue cavers in and trampers caught out around the Nelson Tasman region.

Nelson nurse Jill Clendon presented a plaque to her rescuers who wrenched her out of a hole she had fallen down on Takaka Hill on February 6.

Ms Clendon, who is president of the Nelson Orienteering Club, was checking on an event course near Ngarua Caves when the earth gave way beneath her, she fell 10m into a tomo - or limestone cave. Her friend noticed she was missing and called for help, while Ms Clendon activated a personal locator beacon. She was down in the tomo for four hours before a six- strong caving rescue team arrived to extract her. It then took just 20 minutes for the rescuers to lower ropes into the tomo and pull her out.

Ms Clendon has also been initiated into the ACR Electronics Survivor Club, where the company replaces the beacons that people had used when they needed rescuing. She was presented with a replacement beacon by sales manager for ACR Electronics Steve Mullin.

"We started the survivors club 12 months ago and we have replaced 50 on the beacons, we want to encourage people to use them," Mr Mullin said.

Last year 136 lives were saved in New Zealand because people used beacons, he said.

The beacons did not usually work underground, but Ms Clendon said she saw a small amount of light coming through so she was able to activate it.

"I was amazed that the beacon was picked up so rapidly despite being out of direct line of sight of the opening and so far underground. What an amazing piece of equipment and I was so glad I had it."

"I have felt lost without one over the last fews weeks."

It took her all of February until she could get back outdoors after her knee was badly injured from her fall.

She had been taking part in adventure races recently, but said since falling in the hole "my risk threshold is extra low. I'm normally gung ho".

Nelson Cave Rescue member Colin Campbell was the team leader for Ms Clendon's rescue and had been on rescue missions for 25 years.

He said it was "very important" that people carried beacons when they were out tramping, caving and adventuring especially when they were in small parties.

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He said he was amazed that the beacon worked 10 metres in the ground, and it was a "small piece of sky" that she had access to for a satellite to pick up the alert.

NZ Speleology Society cave search and rescue co-ordinator John Patterson said it was "very unusual" that the equipment managed to work underground.

He said usually cavers would usually have to wait until they were out of a caving system to activate a beacon to be rescued.

- Nelson

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