13 Aug 2018

Rescuing people 'shouldn't have a price'

11:41 am on 13 August 2018

The final cost of rescuing an Australian soldier from Mount Aspiring is still unknown, but the Federated Mountain Clubs head says a price should never be put on people's lives in deciding a rescue response.

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring Photo: 123rf.com

Last week's rescue from Mount Aspiring is estimated to have cost thousands of dollars, with the helicopter services alone costing up to $3750 per flying hour.

Australian soldier Terry Harch spent four freezing nights stuck on Mount Aspiring before a break in the weather allowed two helicopters to lift him, and four members of the Wanaka Alpine Rescue Crews who had been sent in to help him, off the mountain.

Land Search and Rescue have acknowledge it was an extensive and expensive rescue operation, but the total cost is yet to be calculated.

Ultimately the bill, for items such as helicopter hire, meals and any broken equipment will come back to the Rescue Coordination Centre, which is part of Maritime New Zealand.

Rescue Coordination Centre manager Mike Hill said that cost was not, and should not be, a factor in deciding the response to a rescue.

"What would families be saying if someone had died, and [we'd been looking at] the cost and balancing these things out? Do we do as much as we can and get to X figure and say we're going to stop now? No, of course we do as much as we can to rescue and save people in whatever circumstances they're in regardless of how they got there."

Mr Hill said covering the cost of the rescue of a visitor from overseas was part of New Zealand's international obligations and bound by international conventions.

"One of the principles is we will assist people in distress regardless of their nationality, their status and the circumstances in which they were found," Mr Hill said.

"If you look at a worst case scenario, it could be an escaped criminal may need rescuing. If you look at what is happening in the Mediterranean right now, people are making decisions which are very risky, to leave one country to get to another, but if they get in distress they are saved."

Mr Hill said all but one or two countries have reciprocal arrangements to provide search and rescue services, but he recommended people do due diligence and check the specifics in countries they are visiting.

Each year the government provides $5 million to the Rescue Coordination Centre, with around $1m of that spent on covering bills from its annual 1000 rescues.

Land Search and Rescue receives an annual income of $2.6 million, including from NZSAR and police, but with the majority raised through fundraising, donations and sponsorship.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson said it would be a slippery slope to start considering the cost when deciding on the response to a rescue.

Furthermore, he said most of the work involved in a rescue is done by volunteers.

"Search and Rescue in New Zealand is a voluntary system so competent outdoor people give their time willingly, and their employers give their time willingly," Mr Wilson said.

"I've always seen Search and Rescue as a bit of self-insurance, having been involved in rescues myself and having been rescued myself.

"If you're an outdoor person it is good to give back because one day - you might need it yourself."

Mr Wilson said New Zealand had a world-leading search and rescue system, and he did not believe there was any need for major changes.

* This story has been updated to correct the annual income received by Land Search and Rescue.