Pilot pivotal to daring rescue

By Sam Hurley

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Taradale pilot Nat Every hovered above as rescuers were lowered to the ledge where Benjamin Severne was found. Photo/Supplied
Taradale pilot Nat Every hovered above as rescuers were lowered to the ledge where Benjamin Severne was found. Photo/Supplied

A Taradale rescue helicopter pilot was instrumental in saving a hypothermic man, by precariously hovering at 110 feet and winching him from a waterfall ledge.

Taupo's Greenlea Rescue helicopter pilot Nat Every airlifted Benjamin Severne, 48, from Lake Taupo Forest on Saturday, after the prison officer spent three nights in freezing conditions on a waterfall ledge.

The 39-year-old pilot said once Mr Severne was located by ground search and rescue teams a decision was made to extract him by air.

Mr Every hovered above and a LandSAR (Land Search and Rescue Services) member and a police officer were lowered to the ledge with a stretcher.

"Anytime you've got someone hanging off a 110 foot line it's a dangerous situation that deserves the utmost respect and care," he said.

"It's potentially a very dangerous situation for everyone."

The flight crew then flew upstream towards Lake Taupo to a staging area before returning to winch out Mr Severne and the rescue pair.

Mr Severne, of Hallets Bay, had left for a one-day trek last Wednesday when he came across a waterfall on the Waitotara Stream and tried to climb down "Bear Grylls style".

He fell, losing his GPS, torch and balaclava, knocking himself out near a 50m drop.

"I've been in some ugly places but never one with no options," Mr Severne said.

"The thing was to stay alive and go to my daughter's wedding but it was a lot of mental torment."

His dog Whai, who was with him on the trek, leapt on to the ledge after him and the two helped keep each other warm.

Mr Severne said he watched search planes and helicopters pass fruitlessly overhead, but remained hopeful of rescue.

He spent Saturday night in Taupo Hospital recovering from hypothermia and returned home on Sunday.

Mr Every said throughout the three-day search, rescuers had a fair idea of the area where the prison officer would be found.

"The area he was missing in was a reasonably small one, but once you start looking for just one person it becomes harder ... when you fly a helicopter in a search mission the only tool you have is to actually see them, you can't hear anything with the noise."

The Hawke's Bay pilot studied at Taradale High School and Massey University in Palmerston North, before "scratching an itch" and completing his helicopter training.

He and his wife, who is also a pilot, moved to Auckland where he worked out of the city's rescue helicopter base, Mechanics Bay, before providing relief piloting on the Eagle police helicopter.

In November he will have spent four years as the pilot and base manager of the Greenlea Rescue helicopter.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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