The professionalism and expertise of seven Northland groups involved in the search for missing Whangārei man Brian Bench have been acknowledged with a national accolade.
Whangārei Police Search and Rescue Squad (SAR) alongside Skywork Helicopters, the Whangārei Fire Brigade, volunteer groups Northland LandSAR, Far North LandSAR, Whangārei Coastguard, and Ruakākā Surf Life Saving Club took home a Certificate of Achievement – Operational Activity from the annual New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards on Tuesday night.
The award, handed out at Government House in Wellington, is a prestigious nod to the important contribution made to search and rescue in New Zealand last year.
And in Northland, their efforts during the region's largest search operation in the past 17 years returned much-loved local Brian Bench to his family so he could be laid to rest.
The 72-year-old was found hypothermic and seriously injured in a creekbed just off the Ross Track at Mt Parihaka - about 50m from the road - on the afternoon of July 11.
Bench went into cardiac arrest shortly after rescuers located him. He died a short while later despite the efforts of search team members who performed CPR.
More than 120 people from the agencies and members of the public joined the search in urban, coastal and bush surroundings, often in extremely difficult terrain.
Donna MacCarthy, president of Far North Search and Rescue, said the mostly Kerikeri-based volunteers helped search for Bench for four days.
Their usual focus was on the Far North but they were sometimes called out to help in other districts if a large search team was required.
"It [the award] is a huge achievement. It's great to get the recognition, and it highlights the commitment of our team in those big searches."
When the award was announced the group had just completed a two-day search in the bush around Waimamaku, South Hokianga, for the body of Gaelene Bright.
The recognition was the second national award for the group's contributions to locating Bench after they jointly received the LandSAR New Zealand Supreme Award with Northland LandSAR last year.
Ruakākā Surf Lifesaving Search and Rescue coordinator Ben McKernan had no idea the volunteer lifeguards were up for an award for their part in the search.
"We don't do it for the award as such, as it's always for the community.
"But it's always appreciated when we do get that little bit of recognition for the guards involved and the training that we put into it."
McKernan described the awards as a great opportunity to be in a room full of like-minded people focused on helping their communities.
The search for Bench was one of five callouts the surf lifesaving Search and Rescue team responded to last season.
The Advocate has reached out to members of the other Northland groups for their reaction to the win.