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Beacons make for good luck stories

Sam Milligan, left, and Andrew Croskery of Wairarapa Rescue Trust, and Amalgamated Helicopters’ Jamie Hansen, Jason Diedrichs, Bill Rainey and Josh Logan. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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A personal locator beacon could be the difference between life and death.

That’s the message from experienced rescuers, such as Jason Diedrichs of Amalgamated Helicopters.

The Carterton company has a wide range of daily tasks, from pest control to aerial tours.

But they are the first port of call for rescues in the Tararua Range and the Wairarapa coast. It’s varied terrain with unpredictable weather conditions. And Diedrichs knows it as well as anyone.

He said that the availability of beacons and tracking technology had, generally, shortened the time it takes to find people lost in the wild.

“Often, without beacons we were going in there and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“When someone activated the beacon we have an accurate GPS fix on their location.

“This gives valuable search time to locate people in need of help.”

He said it was unwise to go out without a beacon.

“If you’re going out into the back country for any length of time, it’s very cheap insurance. And not only that, if you do get in to trouble and activate the beacon, it saves a whole lot of expense and resources if we have a go-to point to start with.

“Often it’s the difference between a good luck story, where we find someone and can take them home, and a bad luck story.”

Diedrichs has a lifetime of experience walking, and flying, above the Wairarapa landscape. He knows the tracks, and the challenges it presents.

He said the Tararua Range is a particularly rugged set of ranges. The unpredictability of the weather also made rescues even more difficult.

“We’re so close to Cook Strait and its very changeable weather and strong winds. And it’s an alpine environment so you get the wind chill up there.

“Often it can be beautiful down here in the valley and extreme up there in the Tararua tops.

“A lot of people don’t realise but we’re so prone to the westerly wind, that 120kmh wind up in the Tararuas, and couple that with the alpine environment and temperature and you get extreme wind chill.

“Walking in that wind is tiring. People get cold and wet and then give up.”

The trust and other beacon outlets collect important information before lending out a PLB. It is a legal requirement for beacon owners to provide contact information.

That information, a trip plan and gear stocklist, and the beacon itself, helps make search and rescue easier.

The skills of rescuers fill in where computers and the maps can only give you so much, Mike Hill, manager of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said.

The RCC is the national hub for search and rescue. It deploys teams across a massive region of New Zealand’s land and sea area, from Antarctica to the Pacific islands.

Hill said RCC staff go through a thorough process of finding out more about the beacon’s owner, quickly, before contacting the search and rescue teams.

It is crucial anyone thinking of taking a trip prepared thoroughly, he said.

“Take some time planning because bad things still happen to well-prepared people.

“We’re not just rescuing people who weren’t prepared. Accidents can happen to experienced and well-prepared people. The time spent planning pays off time and time again.”

The Wairarapa Rescue Trust funds search and rescue, and subsidises PLBs for trampers, runners and anyone planning a trip. The trust also funds the equipment used for searches.

In Wairarapa, personal locator beacons can be rented from Masterton Trust Lands Trust, 89 Queen St, Masterton.


  1. I am in my late seventies and enjoy going up to Holdsworth on my own. Like to walk to various huts etc. I’d like to go to Powel hut next. Should I take a locator beacon on my walks.

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