Hawke’s Bay Wins bp Rescue of the Year at SLSNZ National Awards of Excellence

Monday, 25 September 2023

The Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue (SAR) squad won bp Rescue of the Year at Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) National Awards of Excellence.


Volunteers from around the country gathered at Te Papa in Wellington on 23 September for the awards, which recognised recipients in the areas of lifesaving, sport, and education.


The 2022/2023 season was particularly challenging for surf lifeguards, as they played a pivotal role in a number of national emergencies, including Cyclone Gabrielle.


The Cyclone struck Hawke’s Bay in the early hours of 14 February 2023, with rising floodwaters trapping people on rooftops, landslides destroying homes and critical infrastructure, and cutting entire regions off.


When the call went out for help, surf lifeguards from Hawke’s Bay and other regions responded swiftly. 


They first went to Esk Valley, where people were trapped. Access to the valley was challenging, but in conjunction with other SAR partners, surf lifeguards managed to find suitable access via Hill Road.  Inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) were cautiously deployed, and surf lifeguards began working their way up the valley.  They soon spotted people stranded on rooftops, trying to escape the rising water, and over the next five hours the SAR squad rescued nearly 40 people and many animals.


Following Esk Valley, the SAR squad was tasked to the Pakowhai area, where the Tūtaekurī and Ngaruroro Rivers had breached their banks, inundating the area with rapidly rising water.


The squad drove across Napier to the outskirts of Hastings to find a safe staging area and quickly launched the IRBs again. The Tararua SAR squad also launched from the Hastings side of the Ngaruroro River to assist at the far end of Pakowhai Road.


Here, IRB crews assisted more than 190 people and many pets to safety.  They also worked with other responders to coordinate and assist with helicopter rescues.


The conditions on the water were unlike anything anyone had experienced before, with surf lifeguards in IRBs having to duck under power lines and navigate hazards and debris to retrieve people and return them safely to land.


Jess Bennett, Hawke’s Bay SAR Coordinator, said, “Surf lifeguards had to carry out some very challenging rescues in a short amount of time, but they responded quickly and applied key lifesaving skills which ultimately, saved many lives.  All of this was done with care and consideration, with the safety of people always front-of-mind.  I couldn’t be prouder of the work our squad did.”


Steve Fisher, SLSNZ CEO, said, “It was a demanding time for all of those involved as they carried out complex rescues, many leaving their worried friends and whānau behind, but they did it with courage and determination.  They are a true inspiration to all of us here at SLSNZ and also to their communities.”





Club: Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue Squad


Surf Lifeguards: Bertie Bassett-Foss, Bella Bassett-Foss, Jess Bennett, Nathan Berry, Jimmy Bowden, Liam Bowden, Sarnia Brewer, Tarsh Brewer, Adrienne Brewer, Aidan Callaghan, Andrew Callinicos, John Callinicos, George Charteris, Mike Connor, Jacob Crawley, Ben Cross, Taylor Dick, Mike Finlayson, Jared Fritchley, Ryan Gordon, Brendan Hamilton-Gibbs, Phil Harman, Mike Harman, Rhys Harman, Ian Horsefield, Mitchell Hohaia, Helen Jackson, Mitch Jackson, Callum Joll, Luke Kay, Ken Laurie, Keira Laurie, James Laver, Will Laver, Jarrod Lowe, Harry Machiela, Adrian Machiela, Adam Moffitt, Kieran Morgan, Ben Morgan, Gabby Palmer, Tony Pattison, Michael Peterson, John Sanko, Calum Sutherland, Nick Swain, Chris Swain, Taine Williams, Alfie Wilson, Olly Wood


With support from members from the following clubs:  Brighton SLSC, Foxton SLSC, Levin-Waitārere SLSC, Lyall Bay SLSC, North Beach SLSC, Ōtaki SLSC, Paekākāriki SL, Palmerston North SLSC, South Brighton SLSC, St Clair SLSC, Taylors Mistake SLSC, Tītahi Bay SLSC, Whangamatā SLSC, Worser Bay LSC