Sea searches get personal

Last updated 05:00 15/06/2012
Noel Anderson
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
HUGE COMMITMENT: Helping boaties in distress was a natural pathway for Noel Anderson.

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For Noel Anderson, water is just part of his life.

Like his father, and his grandfather, much of Mr Anderson's life has been spent on the water – through his involvement in the local fishing industry, and a 40-years-and-counting stint in the Riverton Coastguard.

As a youngster, he would go out on his father's commercial fishing boat during water rescues, before joining the group of volunteers dedicated to helping those who struck trouble around the Southland coastline, in February 1972.

"My family now is six generations of born-and-bred Rivertonians, and the fishing and the sea is in our blood," Mr Anderson said.

"So, yeah, it was just a natural pathway, helping out and doing your part in the community ... helping out boaties in distress," he said.

Forty years as a volunteer is a huge commitment in anyone's books.

But when asked whether the thought of "I've had enough" had ever crossed his mind, even fleetingly, Mr Anderson's answer comes quickly.

"Not once. And the reason I say that is because there's more pluses than minuses."

Although the task of being a volunteer was not an easy one, being able to rescue children in particular meant it was incredibly rewarding, he said,

One rescue that stood out was that of Samantha Chisholm, then 10, after a Cessna crash in Foveaux Strait in 1998, which killed five people, including the 7-year-old namesake of the Riverton Coastguard's rescue boat, Russell Chisholm.

Understandably, given he has been involved in 240 searches in the notoriously treacherous Foveaux Strait, there have been moments anyone would find difficult.

Of the fatal incidents he had attended, more than half had involved someone he knew personally – including the first casualty during his time as skipper, a man who was a mate of his, he said.

"What's kept me going is the people. I've had a wonderful journey with the people I've worked with ... I find it very rewarding. The ladies and the men within the unit of the Riverton Coastguard are all very highly capable, and dedicated to what they do. It's always been that way," he said.

Strong relationships with other agencies Coastguard worked with, such as the police, and the loyalty from the Riverton and wider Southland community also allowed the volunteers to do their utmost during a search and rescue operation, he said.

There had also been some less serious moments in his time with Coastguard.

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While some of the funnier tales weren't the kind that could go in print, he said, one yarn he told was the time he sounded the alarm after a woman called him, in a panic, to say her nanny was drowning in Taramea Bay.

She just happened to leave one crucial piece of information out.

"It was a nanny goat," he said.

"When we got there it was drowned. She was crying pretty hard, the poor thing."

Riverton Coastguard president Allan Duston said it was important to recognise the hard yards people such as Mr Anderson, who was made a life member of Riverton Coastguard 1994, put into volunteer organisations.

Forty years was an impressive achievement, Mr Duston said.

"It is quite a milestone and, while Noel doesn't like being in the limelight, I think it's very fitting to recognise that," he said.

Despite having racked up 40 years, Mr Anderson has no intention of calling it a day anytime soon.

"I've got a while left."

- The Southland Times

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