Coastguard arrives

01:43, Jan 31 2009
To safety: Floundering swimmers in Lake Wakatipu being winched to safety by a helicopter in a coastguard demonstration at Queenstown Bay on Saturday.

New Zealand's newest coastguard unit was officially launched on Lake Wakatipu with a mock-rescue demonstration in Queenstown Bay on Saturday.

Two floundering swimmers were plucked from the lake by a helicopter and then deposited into the waiting coastguard vessel below.

The display provided about 70 invited guests and dozens of bemused tourists with a tantalising glimpse of the new search-and-rescue capability that the coastguard will bring to the district.

Queenstown coastguard president Jay Berriman said the introduction of the dedicated rescue unit was overdue.

"The town's growing at such a rate. The amount of people on the water over Easter was incredible.

"This lake can get to eight degrees. In eight degrees you won't last long. It's also 90km long and on days like today you can get a 2m swell." Though the unit wouldbe on stand-by, it would also actively patrol the lake during busy periods such as holidays, Mr Berriman said.


Speaking at the launch, Queenstown Lakes District Council deputy mayor John Wilson told some 70 guests about an incident 45 years ago when he and nine friends got into trouble on Lake Wanaka.

The group capsized in the middle of the lake at about 10pm and were in the water for 45 minutes waiting to be rescued, Mr Wilson said.

"How we survived, God only knows." Mr Wilson said the incident made him all the more appreciative of the coastguard's arrival.


The Southland Times