Surf Life Saving honoured at NZ Search and Rescue Awards

Posted by Alana McIsaac on Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Surf Life Saving New Zealand has been acknowledged for its achievements in the field of search and rescue at the 2017 New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Council Awards.

Held at Wellington's Queens Wharf last night, the NZSAR Awards are presented annually to give formal and public recognition to those involved in Search and Rescue in New Zealand. They also raise community awareness about the efforts of volunteers and paid personnel in the SAR sector and celebrate their success.

A total of eight awards were presented by Her Excellency, the Rt Hon. Dame Patsy Reddy GNZM QSO including two Gold Awards and six Certificates of Achievement.

The Surf Life Saving New Zealand Otago Search and Rescue Squad was presented with a Certificate of Achievement for Operational Activity for the rescue of nine people from the Taeiri River flood waters on July 21, 2017.

The Certificate of Achievement for Operational Activity is awarded for an important contribution to search and rescue in the New Zealand Search and Rescue Region during 2017. A maximum of four NZSAR Certificates can be awarded in each category each year.

Close to midnight on 21 July, the team responded to multiple 111 calls from people trapped on the roof of a 4WD vehicle, during severe flooding on the Taieri Plains near Mosgiel. The vehicle had been swept down the river into a large stand of poplar trees and a fence.

Club members Isaac Davies, Matthew Bradley, Max Corboy, Alan Todd, Michael Trembath, Rhys McAlevey, Seth McPhee, Stefhan Brown, James Coombes and Scott Weatherall responded with two IRBs and swift water rescue equipment.

On arrival at the scene, the team assessed the situation. Communications in the area were challenging with minimal cellular and VHF radio communications and launching was deemed too dangerous to access the patients, who were approximately 500m away. The team made a 40-minute detour in darkness, through challenging floodwaters and washed-out roads, to find a safe launching place for their IRBs.

Upon finding a suitable location, an IRB was launched and the patients rescued two at a time. A second IRB remained on rescue standby in case it was required. Conditions were hazardous for the IRB crews, operating in fast-flowing floodwaters between trees and submerged objects, in the dark with pouring rain. One patient had to be towed by a rescue swimmer against the current to the waiting IRB.

Remaining team members on shore assisted the patients to a waiting army Unimog, where they were assessed by ambulance and rescue helicopter paramedics. All victims were successfully rescued and returned to a place of safety.

This was a complex rescue that was made even more challenging by darkness, rising floodwaters and difficult communications. Without the direct intervention of the lifeguards and other emergency services working together these persons may well have drowned.

Also honoured last night was David Pontin from Palmerston North Surf Life Saving Club who received a Certificate of Achievement for Support Activity for his commitment and services to search and rescue.

Along with his 20 years of service as a Surf Lifeguard, patrol captain and senior leader, David Pontin is recognised as an outstanding educator. His ability to pass on his skills and mentor lifeguards was recognised in 2007 when he was awarded Lifeguard of the Year.

At a club level, David helps instruct new lifeguards, IRB operators and crew, emerging senior lifeguards and mentors instructional teams. He is a long-time member of the Capital Coast Callout Squad and also an instructor and patrol captain facilitator for the Central Region, passing on his experiences and skills to the next generation of leaders.

David was appointed to the National Lifesaving Committee (NLC) in 2012 where he served for five years. He held the education portfolio and was responsible for writing an educational philosophy for the organisation. This philosophy now drives all course development in the organisation.

David also led the review of the IRB crewperson qualification and over a two-year period he developed a curriculum and method of delivery that suited all clubs and the national body.

For nine years he was a National Lifeguard School instructor, training and developing SLSNZ's elite level lifeguards in skills such as helicopter operations, rock rescues and search and rescue. He is also a veteran member of the National Event Lifeguard Squad, providing an on-water lifeguarding service at SLSNZ competitions.

David's ability and passion to pass on his skills makes him truly exceptional within Surf Life Saving New Zealand.

Congratulations to all of the winners.

To find out more about the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council Awards, please visit

Award recipients:

Gold Award- Operational Activity

Steve Orr - St John, Joe Adam and Mandy Jackson
For the rescue of a person from the Whanganui River on 8 May 2017

Gold Award- Support Activity

Dave St John - Coastguard Marlborough
For his services to Coastguard and Coastguard Marlborough

Certificate of Achievement- Operational Activity

Methven LandSAR
For the rescue of a tramper from 13 Mile Bush on 2 April 2017

SLSNZ Otago Search and Rescue Squad
For the rescue of nine people from Taeiri River flood waters on 21 July 2017

Certificate of Achievement- Support Activity

John Thompson- Coastguard Waimakariri-Ashley
For his commitment and services to search and rescue

David Pontin- SLSNZ
For his commitment and services to search and rescue

Jeff Sayer- AREC
For his commitment and services to search and rescue

Pete Corbett- LandSAR
For his commitment and services to search and rescue

For more information, please contact:

Lisa Smith, Media & Communications Manager
Phone 0276 488 823

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