A tramper who apparently activated a personal locator beacon because he was running late and wanted a ride to his car has been slammed for wasting time and about $10,000 of taxpayers' money.
The man, in his 60s, was tramping in the headwaters of the Otoko River area, on the West Coast of the South Island, when he activated the beacon about 4.30pm yesterday.
The Rescue Coordination Centre dispatched the Solid Energy rescue helicopter from Greymouth, only to find the man was uninjured.
Maritime New Zealand rescue and response general manager Nigel Clifford said it would be inappropriate, potentially dangerous and a clear breach of radio regulations if the man had activated the beacon simply because he was running late.
"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.''
Distress beacons are only permitted to be used in an emergency situation.
Penalties for the misuse of a beacon include a formal warning, a $250 penalty and prosecution - which carries a maximum fine of $30,000.
Maritime New Zealand was considering what action to take.
Despite the incident, Mr Clifford recommended all trampers carry a registered beacon.
"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.''
He said the incident came on the same day as two genuine beacon activations - one by a tramper who fell ill in the Olivine River area, near Glenorchy, and the other by an injured tramper 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.''
The tramper in the Olivine River area was rescued by the Southern Lakes helicopter after he activated his beacon shortly before 7pm. He was suffering from a stomach complaint, having not eaten in two days, and was flown to Te Anau.
Three hours later, another tramper with a broken arm activated a hired beacon in the Glentanner area.
A Department of Conservation search and rescue found the man with at 12.40am.
He was picked up by a Helicopter Line helicopter and taken to Timaru this morning.