A tramper in south Westland who appears to have activated his personal locator beacon simply because he was running late and wanted a ride to his car wasted time, taxpayers’ money, and potentially put others at risk.
The man, in his 60s, was tramping in the headwaters of the Otoko River area, and activated his beacon at around 4.30pm yesterday (7 February). The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) tasked the Solid energy helicopter from Greymouth which located the man, only to find he was uninjured.
Maritime New Zealand’s General Manager of Rescue and Response Services, Nigel Clifford, said if the beacon activation was simply because the man was late, then it was entirely inappropriate, potentially dangerous, and a clear breach of the radio regulations that apply to emergency distress beacons.
“The incident tied up a helicopter for around two and a half hours, at a cost of around $10,000 to taxpayers, and more importantly meant that aircraft was unavailable for any other genuine emergency that may have arisen,” he said.
“Yesterday there were two other beacon activations – one by a tramper injured in the Olivine River area, near Glenorchy, and the other by a tramper who had fallen ill just north of Glentanner, near Lake Pukaki. Both these activations were by people who were debilitated and at risk – it was entirely appropriate that they activated their beacons.”
Radio regulations permit the use of emergency distress beacons by general users but are clear that the beacon should only be used in an emergency situation. There are penalties for the mis-use of beacons ranging from a formal warning, to an infringement notice penalty of $250, and prosecution, which carries a maximum fine of $30,000. The regulations are administered by Radio Spectrum Management, part of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Maritime New Zealand is considering what action to take with regard to this specific incident.
“We recommend everyone going tramping carry a beacon – and that they register their beacon,” Mr Clifford said. “While the decision to activate a beacon is one that only the person carrying it can make, depending on their circumstances, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It is certainly not a taxi service.”
Note to media:
The tramper who activated his beacon in the Olivine River area near Glenorchy activated his beacon shortly before 7pm. the RCCNZ tasked Southern Lakes Helicopters to fly to the position, and found the man who was suffering from a stomach complaint and had not eaten in two days. He was flown to Te Anau.
The tramper in the Glentanner area near Lake Pukaki activated his hired beacon shortly before 10pm. Enquires with the hire company ascertained tramping in the area. The Mount Cook Department of Conservation search and rescue team located the man at 12.40am. He was suffering from a broken arm and was picked up by a Helicopter Line helicopter this morning and taken to Timaru.
Personal Locator Beacons should be registered, without charge, at the website: beacons.org.nz
Registration is a legal requirement and provides emergency contact information that can be extremely valuable in case of an emergency.