Taranaki rescue helicopter workers have received a top rescue award for their work battling surging seas, stormy weather and a hazardous environment to save the lives of 10 people stranded on New Plymouth's Paritutu Rock.
Alan Deal, Andrew Cronin, Jayden Strickland and Phil Dwyer were presented with the New Zealand Search and Rescue Gold Award at Parliament today by Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse.
Three other rescue teams were presented with certificates of achievement for the roles they played in other dramatic rescues last year, and two for their contribution to rescue services.
Mr Woodhouse said the recipients' actions showed remarkable "courage, compassion and commitment in life-threatening situations".
Last August a Spotswood College trip to Paritutu Rock turned to tragedy when students Stephen Kahukaka-Geyde and Felipe Martins De Melo were washed into the surging sea.
Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits instructor Bryce Jourdain dived in to rescue them, but all three died.
The rescue team faced massive waves battering distressed survivors who were stranded on the rock face and an unknown number of people missing.
Pilot Alan Deal, winch operator Phil Dwyer and crewman Andrew Cronin began winching drenched, exhausted and freezing students and instructors from the rock face.
The winch recovery was coordinated from the ground by crewman Jayden Strickland.
It was noted as one of the most difficult operations the crew members had ever been involved in.
Others recognised for heroic feats with a certificate of achievement were the Wanaka Police SAR Squad and Wanaka LandSAR teams who created a 'human dam' over 15-year-old Dion Latta, while he was trapped upside-down in a waterfall in the Motatapu Gorge, last January.
Dion's foot was caught between boulders in an awkward position on the edge of a three-metre waterfall, leaving him fully submerged, but able to breathe via an air pocket.
To rescue Dion, volunteers created a human dam to break the water flow, so another team member could go under the water to free the trapped leg.
After three hours, Dion was suffering from hypothermia and had lost consciousness. He was eventually rescued alive but in a critical condition, and died later in Dunedin Hospital.
Recognised for their work in a rescue mission with an achievement certificate were Cape Egmont Sea Rescue, Coastguard South Taranaki, Opunake Boating Club, Opunake Surf Life Saving Club and the Taranaki Police SAR Squad for the rescue of two fishermen at Opunake, last February.
The men were rescued from their stricken boat about 700 metres off the South Taranaki Coast near Opunake. The rescue was carried out in horrendous conditions in the middle of the night.
Also honoured with a certificate of achievement today were Bruce Joy, Mark Cannell, Russell Clarke and Steve Oliver from the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust for their efforts to retrieve a lone sailor from his stricken yacht off the Port of Waikato last March.
The team was able to winch the exhausted yachtie in wild weather and heavy sea swells.
Russell (Sherp) Tucker, and Gerard Prins, both from the New Zealand Police, received certificate of achievements for their services to Search and Rescue.