FROM THE FRONT PAGE
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.’’