NZDF pitch in for avalanche-rescue exercise

New Zealand Defence Force personnel have taken part in a large-scale exercise to test a police-led emergency response to an avalanche.

CAPTIONRNZAF’s No.3 SQN take part in an Avalanche SAR training exercise with NZ Police and other agencies at Mount Ruapehu. NZDF photo.

The exercise involved about 60 personnel from Police, NZDF, Department of Conservation and New Zealand Land Search and Rescue (Land SAR) and St John New Zealand, as well as ski field and civilian helicopter operators.

Air Component Commander Air Commodore Andrew Clark said a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter flew search-and-rescue personnel to Mount Tongariro and contributed to a practice avalanche response as part of the police-led drill.

“It was an opportunity to exercise our unique Defence Force capabilities that support our community in emergency situations,” Air Commodore Clark said.

“The NH90, which can fly in mountainous conditions and carry up to 18 passengers, demonstrated its capability during the exercise.

“The response to an avalanche is time-critical and you would need air support to get rescuers and other responders to the scene as soon as it is deemed safe.”

Senior Constable Barry Shepherd, from New Zealand Police’s Bay of Plenty District, said the exercise challenged participants from the initial reporting of the incident and assessment of the avalanche site, to search and rescue and medical evacuation.

“The key objective was to test our combined capability in responding to a major avalanche and review the overall response plan,” Senior Constable Shepherd said.

Although police would lead the response to an avalanche, many organisations were involved, he said.

“It’s not only about how fast we respond, which of course is critical, but also the coordination of all the different agencies involved in the emergency response.

“The different exercise activities were meant to assess all aspects of the response plan, so that we can fine-tune it before we have to deal with a real emergency.”

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Brian Hartigan

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