The Latest News and Rescue Stories

Here is the story in the words of one of the walking group:

"In the 1st week of March 2014, a group of 4 of us went into Nelson Lakes National Park to do the Travers-Sabine Circuit plus a side visit to the Blue Lake. After varied weather for the first three days - sunshine, snow & cold winds - we made it to West Sabine Hut and then had a soggy walk in the rain & wind to overnight at Blue Lake Hut. On our way back from Blue Lake Hut, about 3.5km from West Sabine Hut, one of our party slipped on rocks and dislocated his kneecap and tore ligaments. After applying strapping to the knee & providing pain relief, he attempted to move over the rocky & root covered ground using our help and walking poles, however it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to make it 5-10m let alone 3.5km to West Sabine Hut. We moved back him to nearby scree field and decided our best option was to activate one of our two beacons. My beacon was activated at 12pm and we organised our orange pack covers as markers on the scree slope. Luckily the weather was sunny & warm, so we could wait in the sun with a brew for the Land SAR team. It would have been a different picture the day before in the rain & strong winds. We waited until around 5:30pm for the rescue helicopter to arrive, by which time we had moved our injured man to a rock biv that was about 300m away from the scree slope, thinking we could well be spending the night by the Sabine River. The Nelson Marlborough Rescue helicopter winched our man up through the trees and whisked him back to St Arnaud for treatment. We had another 75 mins walk back down to West Sabine Hut for a nights rest.

Rescue Location
Rescue Product UsedFastfind 201 PLB


Although our injury was not life threatening, I contacted the Rescue Coordination Centre on return from our tramp to try & understand why it took almost 6hrs for the Rescue helicopter to get to us. The coordinator pointed out that as we were in a North-South facing valley with steep sides, only the low earth orbit (LEO) satellites tracking over us would have visibility of us, but it took until the 4th pass over our area to pick us up as the 3 previous passes had gone to the west of our position. Once the LEO satellite picked up our signal, the helicopter was with us with 70mins. The coordinator recommended getting as high as possible for setting off the beacon, so that both the LEO and geo-stationary satellites could have seen the beacon signal quicker. For us this would have meant crossing the Sabine River and then climbing several hundred metres up the eastern scree slope towards Mt Franklin. This is not something we considered at the time as we had clear view of the sky from our existing scree slope. However, it is something we will think about next time we have to activate a beacon, as it's really useful information to remember for faster satellite reception."

Note: The Fast Find 201 is a non GPS Personal Locator Beacon which finds location by triangulating the position of different satellites. All current McMurdo FastFind PLBs have built -in GPS which would enable the rescue authorities to pinpoint the position of the PLB much more quickly.