Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS -

ex­pe­di­tion with his two young sons in the Matuk­i­tuki River.

A seem­ingly sim­ple river cross­ing went trag­i­cally wrong and Colombo was swept sev­eral hun­dred me­tres away into the Rob Roy Rapid and drowned.

Bai­ley was not on the Wanaka po­lice go-to pool of search and res­cue vol­un­teers but got a call from a Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion staff mem­ber con­cerned about the river con­di­tions.

Colombo’s body was found in an aerial search be­fore Bai­ley got to the scene, about 60km from town.

After talk­ing about the op­er­a­tion, Bai­ley and Wanaka po­lice Sergeant Aaron Nicholson agreed SAR vol­un­teers should get wa­ter res­cue train­ing and Bai­ley was in.

He can now call on at least 12 peo­ple with pro­fes­sional raft­ing, kayak­ing and out­door recre­ation ex­pe­ri­ence. Mul­ti­task­ing alpin­ists and canyon­ers are also roped in from time to time. All un­der­take reg­u­lar train­ing, with a spe­cial spring train­ing ses­sion to fo­cus the team on the loom­ing sum­mer res­cue sea­son.

Bai­ley says mas­ter­ing rope work is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause of the hy­draulics ex­pe­ri­enced when lifting peo­ple or ob­jects from rivers.

The sheer force of wa­ter means en­trap­ment against rocks is common, with drown­ing almost in­evitable.

‘‘Dion Latta was the ex­cep­tion. You don’t get called up and get there to find the per­son is still alive,’’ Bai­ley said.

Dion Latta’s name still pulls heart strings in Wanaka. The tena­cious Palmer­ston 15-year-old was trapped by his leg in a wa­ter­fall in the Mo­tat­apu Gorge on New Year’s Day, 2012, but died in Dunedin Hos­pi­tal from im­mer­sion hy­pother­mia after he was res­cued.

Bai­ley and many other river res­cue team mem­bers were away that day and other vol­un­teers were work­ing on an op­er­a­tion at Mt Twi­light, where a tram­per had died.

But Wanaka po­lice quickly rat­tled up a team of climbers and canyon­ers who worked in har­row­ing con­di­tions for many hours to ex­tract the boy.

The ac­tions of Se­nior Con­sta­ble Mike John­ston, two mem­bers of the pub­lic – Jef­frey Sim­mers, of Waikoikoi, and Latham Ward­haugh, of Dunedin – and other vol­un­teers re­sulted in mul­ti­ple awards from the Royal Hu­mane So­ci­ety and NZ LandSAR.

Bai­ley is al­ready plan­ning search­ing the Wilkin River gorge again for Oliver, when river con­di­tions per­mit.

After each in­ci­dent, peo­ple ask ‘‘what went wrong’’ and for Bai­ley, there is usu­ally just one an­swer.

‘‘I would say in gen­eral, there’s usu­ally been a bad decision some­where. And ob­vi­ously when you are talk­ing about wa­ter, the con­se­quence of that bad decision hap­pens quite quickly.’’

Oliver’s ac­ci­dent has been re­ferred to the coro­ner and Bai­ley is re­luc­tant to com­ment in de­tail while it is fresh.

Bai­ley says wa­ter al­ways de­serves re­spect. Some peo­ple push their lim­its even when they know they are not good swim­mers.

Oth­ers are tricked by be­nign-look­ing wa­ter into cross­ing in the wrong place.

‘‘Peo­ple mis­un­der­stand the force of a river. Es­pe­cially around here when the wa­ter is so clear. It is al­ways deeper than it looks. If it looks knee deep it is prob­a­bly waist deep.’’

Bai­ley sug­gests slow­ing down, ask­ing ‘‘do I need to cross this river’’, then as­sess­ing the safety buf­fer.

‘‘A Moun­tain Safety Coun­cil course in river cross­ings is also re­ally good to do. Prac­tice? Yes, you can. But there is a right way and a wrong way. So long as it is safe and you go with friends and have a crack at it, I sup­pose that is bet­ter than noth­ing. But I would do the Moun­tain Safety course. It is pre­ven­ta­tive and we are the am­bu­lance at the bot­tom of the cliff.’’

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