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Plucked from Palliser in the nick of time

It’s a treacherous coastline responsible for a fair share of tragedies, but two fishermen will live another day after a “textbook” rescue in Cape Palliser.
Life Flight’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter team fished two severely hypothermic men from the water on Monday evening and rushed them to Wellington Hospital.
Helicopter winch operator Julian Burn said the team was one of multiple emergency services, including police launch Lady Elizabeth, mobilised after reports of a capsized boat on Wairarapa’s notorious south coast.
“We received the job at about 5.30pm. There wasn’t a lot of information, but they [the fishermen] had been in the water for some time.”
He said the three-person crew comprising a pilot, paramedic, and winch operator, was in the air within five minutes of receiving the call.
“With water rescues speed is key. You need to get cracking as soon as possible, so we treat them with a fair amount of urgency.
“These guys were elderly gents, very hypothermic and cold.”
“I’m speculating, but they may have lasted another half hour.”


Footage of the rescue from the Life Flight’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter. VIDEO/SUPPLIED

Fifteen minutes later the helicopter was above the men who were more than a kilometre offshore, desperately clinging to a small silver dinghy.
Burn said possible scenarios were discussed en route, including what to do with the dog that was reportedly with the men.
“You don’t know what you’re going to encounter. They could be on their last breath, about to go under, in a life raft or hanging onto the boat.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about the dog, but the guys were the top priority.”
Footage of the rescue shows the back door of the helicopter being thrown open and Burn sighting the men almost immediately.
Next, the wet-suited and harnessed paramedic Serah Allison is lowered into the water, striking toward the men who are both in life jackets.
Burn said the patients were triaged, but the man deemed the most critical required convincing to get in the harness.
“He was hanging onto the one and only thing that was giving him buoyancy, and a helicopter
had just turned up.
“They’ve been in the water a while, so they’re confused and scared.
“She did a great job reassuring him, and we winched them out.”
He said unless someone was on their last breath, in which the paramedic would go straight into the water with a life raft, it was standard procedure for them to remain attached to the helicopter.
“Especially around Wellington and the Wairarapa coast, there are big swells, and it pays to have an escape route if they get into trouble.”
Allison attached the second man to the harness and with both in the helicopter, they were treated for hypothermia.
Burn said the huntaway heading dog was found safe and well on the shore.
He said the men had been hauling in a fishing net when the boat tipped, quickly drifting out to sea.
Two people have drowned at Cape Palliser in the past year, a diver on Christmas Eve and a recreational fisher on Good Friday.
Burn said in his 15 years with Life Flight he had been involved in searches that had ended in tragedy, but there had been more successes than not, and the most recent one was “textbook”.
“It’s always good to get out where we can help people. We have made a positive outcome in their lives, and as a team, you feel good about that.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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