New SAR practices in wake of recent case

Searchers head for the Ahuriri Valley during last month's efforts to find a missing tramper....
Searchers head for the Ahuriri Valley during last month's efforts to find a missing tramper. Photo by Mike Firman.
Southern district police and LandSAR representatives throughout Otago are to establish greater cross-district co-operation during large-scale operations similar to last month's exhaustive efforts in the Ahuriri Valley to locate missing Dunedin man David Palmer.

At the peak of the Ahuriri Valley operation, as many as 60 police, army and LandSAR personnel from North Otago, Wanaka, Queenstown, the Catlins and Dunedin were involved in efforts to find Mr Palmer.

Following a review of the operation at a recent LandSAR regional committee meeting in Wanaka, moves are now afoot to establish more consistent working practices during future operations.

LandSAR field support officer Iain Watson said a working group had been set up to investigate how support staff could be better co-ordinated during search and rescue operations.

"As a result of the Ahuriri search, it was clear that we needed a better system of management support.

"The police are in charge, they are responsible, they surround themselves with people that are skilled and knowledgeable. Alongside that, there is a necessity for other people to assist them, and that's the management support group. These management support people might be doing data entry so there is a log of everything that is done.

"The situation was discussed and it was decided we need a group of trained people that can assist management of searches such as the one at Ahuriri."

The Southern district covered everything south of the Waitaki River, and creating a region-wide support system was a "positive step", Mr Watson said.

He added there was no suggestion there had been any shortcomings with the operation to find Mr Palmer, whose body was found two weeks after he went missing.

Inspector Alastair Dickie, of Dunedin, said the move would help bring about a better co-ordinated approach, and added police would also conduct more debriefings following other "significant" operations.

"There are 11 search and rescue groups in the Southern district who deal with a range of marine and land incidents, and we are now co-ordinating incident managers together and trying to get a consistent approach to how we deal with search incidents.

"It's about information sharing and getting ideas from each other and seeking out lessons learnt."

North Otago Search and Rescue chairman Tony Wood backed the move, which he said would also ensure that support staff were up-skilled so there would be more consistency in reporting methodology used by personnel throughout the region.

Mr Wood said it had the potential to be a "great resource", especially during the second and third day of a search when local staff were relieved by teams from outside the immediate area.



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