A rescue helicopter pilot says a four-hour emergency rescue of a group of teenagers in the Ruahine Ranges on Sunday was "mentally exhausting" for him and his crew.
Four Palmerston North teenagers were forced to activate a personal locator beacon (PLB) after showing signs of hypothermia after a night of heavy rain.
The group set off from the Rangiwahia bush on Saturday night, before heading to the Oroua River where they had to cross waist-high water.
After much deliberation, the PLB – which sends an exact location to emergency services, emitting a distress signal – was triggered.
Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter Service pilot Jeremy Bruce said the task was "challenging and mentally exhausting" as he was forced to hover the helicopter for up to 10 minutes above the dense bush for each winch.
"I focused on the top of a tree as a reference point and managed to hold the helicopter steady in deteriorating conditions for the long 160-feet winch up and down each time," he said.
"However, we do plenty of training and the crew look forward to jobs like this that put our skills to the test. It is so rewarding to know that we got all four out safely and is simply why we do what we do."
Intensive care paramedic Ryan Sutherland, who was winched down to assess the patients, quickly identified their deteriorating state meant they needed to be extracted quickly.
Olly Dale, along with friends Lachlan, Meghan and Esther, used their shiny emergency blankets to ensure the chopper could see them.
While the group had tents and emergency blankets, 17-year-old Olly later learned medics believed he was just an hour from death.
"They gave us two hours before they were lifting multiple bodies out," he said.
Crewman Wayne Steed completed nine winch rotations through the course of the rescue.
Olly and another patient were taken to Palmerston North Hospital for urgent treatment, before the helicopter returned to pick up the other two patients.
The crew delivered the second two teens to the same hospital, nearly four hours after first arriving on the scene.
Bruce said if the group hadn't triggered their PLB when they did, things could have ended differently with deteriorating weather.
"The group did everything right when they set off their PLB. It meant we were able to go directly to them and get them out quickly," he said.
"This is another good story reminding us all of the importance of being well prepared when heading into the bush and having and using a PLB."