Blair Hanna and Matt Hassard can go bush for days on end at a moment’s notice — and their bosses don’t mind a bit.
That’s because the pair — one a Raglan real estate agent, the other a Whatawhata plumber and gasfitter who does a lot of his work here in town — are local members of Search and Rescue (SAR). Their unpaid efforts in callouts at any time of day or night can potentially mean the difference between life and death.
“Every minute you wait increases the distance of the search area,” says Matt, who with 10 years’ experience behind him is an old hand at land-based search and rescue missions.
In fact as operations co-ordinator, Matt’s confident that within half an hour of a police call demanding an immediate response “we could get 20 of us out here from Hamilton”.
That’s from Hamilton’s pool of 45 or 50 volunteers like himself to call on, both men and women, prepared to do what it takes anywhere in the Waikato.
It might be to search for lost tourists on Mt Karioi which has not been uncommon in the past six months, Matt adds. It could equally be a couple of pighunters overdue around Waingaroa, trampers missing on Pirongia or someone who’s broken their leg in the bush, requiring a “stretch and carry” exercise.
And while volunteers are sometimes put on standby, with time to prepare themselves, they’re expected always to have their own survival packs ready for emergencies. Everything from boots and torches to tents, cookers and sleeping bags are included in the average 14-16 kilo pack, says Matt, to ensure each member of the team is self-sufficient for at least 24 hours in the bush.
Teams can be gone for anything up to five days, Matt explains, and are often choppered into dense bush in rough weather. And occasionally they must deal with back-to-back callouts. Hamilton SAR recently deployed a team at midnight to Maungatautari, and then at six in the morning to Karioi.
“There’s no pattern,” Matt adds of the 15 to 20 callouts each year. SAR could be called out three times in one week, for instance, and then not again for another couple of months.
“New boy” Blair Hanna, as Matt jokingly calls him, reckons his 24-hour pack — kept in his car outside the office — still needs to be tested however.
“Bring it on,” says Blair, who’s keen to get into the bush after not much more than an “urban” callout so far in which the search for someone missing takes place in the streets.
Blair was one of 28 who trained up last year at Te Akau on an overnight Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) coordinated by Matt, whose job it is to “put new people through their paces”. Raglan Coastguard transported the volunteers across-harbour.
Typically, says Matt, volunteers like Blair love the outdoors and are expected to be reasonably fit, as well as to have basic bush experience and navigation skills. Then they’re “whipped into shape”, Blair told the Chronicle, through an induction process over months.
But for all the so-called “toughening up” involved, Blair reckons it beats being in front of the computer all day and it’s good to “do something for the community”.
Matt agrees. The day job can be shelved, families learn to live with untimely interruptions and, yes, “it’s always good to give back to your community”.
Finding people, especially children, is the best thing about Search and Rescue, Matt insists. And the job’s one of the few that has the satisfaction of total closure — one way or another — even if a missing person’s sometimes found a little further down the track than during the initial callout.
Interested volunteers can go to www.hsar.org.nz for more information.