Soldier killed in ship exercise a 'first class gentleman'
Tributes are pouring in for a member of the Defence Force Special Operations Force who died during a counter-terrorism training exercise in the waters off the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula.
It's understood Sergeant Wayne Taylor, a father of four, fell about five metres and broke his neck during the operation involving a container ship near Channel Island in the Hauraki Gulf early Friday.
On Friday night, friends and New Zealand Defence Force colleagues were remembering Taylor as a "first class gentleman" with a "fun positive attitude".
The Defence Force said his next of kin had been informed and his family was being supported by a liaison officer.
"Our thoughts are with the soldier's family and friends, and the NZDF requests that their privacy is respected at this difficult time."
Taylor joined the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment as a member of the Army Reserve in 1993, joining the Regular Force in October 1997. He served in East Timor and Afghanistan.
"Many of the Regiment, both RNZIR and NZSAS, will remember him as an outstanding soldier, leader, father, family man, and friend to many, as well as being an all-round top bloke," Major General Peter Kelly Chief of Army said.
"He was a consummate professional, who was known for his dedication and reliability – always upholding our core values in every endeavour."
Taylor was married and had four children.
"I know that his family, friends and workmates will be keenly feeling the loss of a husband, father and friend," Kelly said.
"My thoughts are with them all over the coming days and weeks."
On Friday night, more than 100 people had left tributes to Taylor – who was also known as 'Tails' – online.
"Onward bro. RIP Tails... heart goes out to the wife and kids mate," one wrote.
"Devastating news. Absolutely first class gentleman and a consummate professional. Rest easy Tails," another wrote.
A third person remembered Taylor's "smiley face" and "fun positive attitude".
Another simply wrote: "It was my pleasure to have met and known you."
Earlier, a witness described seeing three military-grade inflatable boats full of black-clad military personnel carrying assault rifles land on the shores of Port Jackson, at the tip of the peninsula, as dawn broke.
"We got woken up when three inflatable RIBs came onshore, they came hurtling in," the man, who did not wish to be named, said.
"We thought at first it was an exercise as they were working on someone on the shore – they were letting off flares and smoke and everything.
"It was quite scary as they were all dressed in black and carrying assault rifles."
About 20 personnel wearing black military issue gear jumped out, bringing the injured officer ashore.
They began rotating CPR on the man on the beach.
"There was a whole stack of them. They would do a couple of minutes of chest compressions then the next lot would take over.
"They just kept going and going and going.
"The next thing the helicopter came in ... it was the rescue helicopter and I thought, oh s...."
The helicopter dropped paramedics onto the beach before going on to land at the camp ground.
St John ambulance staff also responded. They brought a local doctor from Colville.
Paramedics continued working on the man with a defibrillator for about an hour, he said.
"I believe, from all accounts, they were on an exercise on a container boat out by Channel Island," the witness said.
"We believe he fell something like five metres, and he'd broken his neck, so there wasn't much chance."
The container ship was not visible from the Port Jackson beach, he said, but there had been a couple of container vessels passing through the channel earlier.
"[The soldiers] were all dressed in black. It was definitely defence force as they had short assault rifles strapped to them and they were all done up in black with vests.
"It was quite scary."
He said the personnel seemed shaken, and upset.
After about an hour and a half, the ambulance and helicopter left the scene, followed by the RIBs which headed south.
"It was reasonably rough when they left. The RIBs were getting pounded by the surf."
Police were investigating on behalf of the Coroner.
When Stuff made inquiries about the incident on Friday morning, all queries were first referred to St John, which then referred all queries to police.
A police spokesperson confirmed police had been advised of an incident on a vessel in that area at 6.30am.
Maritime New Zealand confirmed a beacon alert went off on a vessel in that area but said St John responded to the incident, and directed all inquiries to them initially.
On Friday night, a Maritime New Zealand spokesman said police were handling the initial investigation.
"A decision will be made after that as to whether there will be a role for Maritime New Zealand."
If it was suspected the Defence Force had not fulfilled its obligations to ensure employees' safety, Maritime New Zealand could press charges, the spokesman said.
"We have jurisdiction under the Maritime Transport Act and the Health and Safety at Work Acts and we can prosecute under those acts."
WHAT SPECIAL OPS DO
According to the NZDF 2016 Defence Capability Plan, Special Operations Forces use operational techniques and modes of employment not standard to conventional forces.
Their deployment lead times are short and their equipment and training must always be cutting edge, the report states.
"Special Operations Forces respond to terrorism events in New Zealand, if the New Zealand Police require additional support, and are deployable globally as an independent contribution or as part of a Joint Task Force.
"Special Operations Forces are trained and equipped for explosive ordnance disposal."
The Special Air Service has a maritime counter-terrorism and maritime infiltration role, and the rigid hull inflatable boats used for these tasks were due to be replaced with modern boats in 2017, and again in 2026.
In April 2016 a new Special Operations Battle Training Facility was opened in Ardmore, Auckland, to deliver high-end training to the Special Air Service.
The facility is used for all-weather training, live firing, use of helicopters, and scenario training based on specific environments and structures such as aircraft fuselages, ships' bridges, and public transport.
New deployable Special Ops vehicles are being procured for special operations forces, and will arrive in New Zealand by 2018.
"The vehicles will increase the mobility and protection of our forces on operations."
The report states that significant spending is provisioned to ensure special ops forces remain world class.