Rescuers come to terms with tragedy

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 01/09/2012
TARANAKI DAILY NEWS ONLINE

Taranaki Daily News reporter Jo Moir meets with two of the men behind the massive search for the people missing since August the 8th.

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ANDY JACKSON
Taranaki search and rescue Sergeant Andrew Ross
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ANDY JACKSON
Taranaki surf life saving club development officer Andy Cronin

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The goal was simple. Bring home three boys.

This week marked the official end of the search for the remaining two swept to sea after a rock climbing tragedy at Paritutu Rock on August 8.

Twelve days later the body of Brazilian teenager, Felipe Melo, was found and his funeral was held a week ago.

At the forefront of the search for Spotswood College students, Felipe and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, both 17, and their Topec instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, were Taranaki search and rescue and the surf life saving crew.

This week Taranaki search and rescue Sergeant Andrew Ross and Taranaki surf life saving club development officer Andy Cronin reflected on the tragedy that has consumed their lives and much of the community's for the last three weeks.

If you add all of the individual hours spent by search and rescue and police since the accident, it totals close to 100 days.

Mr Ross says he has not even begun to work out the cost involved with the search and he does not think it really matters.

"How do you put a price on three people's lives?"

In 12 years of search and rescue in Taranaki Mr Ross said the Paritutu tragedy was the biggest operation he has been involved in.

"That three weeks just disappeared; you give your all to it."

"I turned into a grump at home and was basically just focusing on this, so I lost sight of what my partner and son were doing over that time."

Just because two of the bodies have not surfaced yet does not mean hope is gone, Mr Ross says.

"It's a hard one because the more you read and the more people you talk to about it you hear about people that have turned up after weeks.

"But then there's people that never turn up as well," he says.

Mr Ross describes the first half-hour after receiving the call that three men were in the water as "bedlam".

He rushed to the Civil Defence office, where search and rescue are based, and called the rescue helicopter and surf lifesaving crew en route.

The Taranaki Search and Rescue Helicopter was on its way back from a patient transfer to Hamilton and was 18 minutes away. Inflatable rescue boats made it to Paritutu in 12.

"The information came through to me that they could see someone in the water. They said they could see someone who looked to be the instructor.

"He seemed to be swimming OK, confident was the word they used."

But Mr Jourdain disappeared just as the first IRB rounded the breakwater.

The emotional toll was equally draining for the 30 lifeguards who helped search.

Mr Cronin headed the life saving team and was part of the helicopter crew that winched 10 other people off Paritutu.

"Given the conditions on the first day it was hard having to draw that line when you know you can't see people down there yet you know people went in to that location."

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"You can only work with the cards you're dealt but it's shattering when you've done everything possible and not achieved your goal.

"At some point you just have to come to the understanding that you can only do what you can do."

He advises people to give their kids a cuddle in the morning and let their loved ones know how you feel. "Because at the end of the day it might be the last opportunity you have to do that."

- Taranaki Daily News

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