The country's top search and rescue award has stayed in the hands of the Northland volunteers who were a key part of the largest operation in 17 years - to find missing Whangārei man Brian Bench.
Last year the Northland Land Search and Rescue (SAR) group won the Supreme Award for a daring late-night cliff rescue in Spirits Bay in 2019.
This time, their efforts with the Far North LandSar team during a four-day search for Bench earned both groups the prestigious New Zealand Land Search and Rescue accolade.
The 73-year-old local, who had dementia, went missing from his home on Memorial Dr in Parahaki on the night of July 7.
He was found in cold and wet conditions around 1.7km away from his house down a steep gully among dense bush in the Mt Parahaki area.
LandSar adviser Grant Conaghan said the first day of the search was spent scouring a 300m circle around Bench's home.
"We had a police dog and covered that area around four or five times. We even searched inside the house – in wardrobes, under the bed, everywhere."
The teams also looked into a huge number of reported sightings of Bench by members of the public.
The search peaked in the last two days as the nine volunteers - who made up the Incident Management Team - coordinated 10 field teams, Coastguard, Surf Lifesaving NZ search and rescue squads, and 80 members of the public.
Fire brigades, Soul Food catering, the police Eagle helicopter and a private chopper, St John paramedics, drones and the Rapid Response Team also contributed to the operation.
The hard work of rescuers was rewarded in the evening of day three when they discovered CCTV footage that showed the father-of-two walking up Memorial Dr towards Mt Parihaka.
Conaghan said they further honed in on him as a lesser-known CCTV camera at the toilet block near the start of the Ross Track had captured Bench as he walked by.
Searchers combed the dense bush along the popular walking track.
Rescuers walked in teams of six, side-by-side a metre apart, when they heard a noise that led them to Bench, who had slipped down a large slope into a creek about 50m from the road.
He died at the scene despite the efforts of emergency services.
Twenty rescuers worked together using three 50m assisted-braking belays systems to stretcher Bench out of the bush.
Conaghan said subtle clues left by Bench led them to where he'd left the path as they worked back through his movements.
One clue was a clump of moss on the bank side that had three finger-like patches missing as if someone had put their hand down as they slipped, he said.
Bench's family has planted a kauri tree at the spot he left the track.
Conaghan indicated it had been an emotionally tough operation, which made the national recognition even more exceptional for the groups.
"To get the Supreme Award back again is absolutely awesome for the group and to get it back for a different reason makes it even better."
Last year's win was down to the technical aspect of the late-night cliff rescue at Spirits Bay, east of Cape Reinga, in December, where a 21-year-old Auckland man got stuck 50m up a cliff.
"This time we're being awarded for the way the teams worked together given our groups are likely to carry out one search together a year," Conaghan said.
"Because we do the same training we all just easily knitted together to find Brian."
Two members also scooped individual awards. Northland LandSar adviser Grant Conaghan received top honours with an Excellence Award for his 50-year contribution to the organisation.
A New Zealand LandSar spokesperson said the award acknowledged his ongoing commitment to training to "ensure the best possible outcome for the lost party".
"Mr Conaghan's peers described him as a man who 'leads by example, continually putting Northland LandSar and the missing party ahead of his personal commitments."
Far North volunteer Ian Ruddell's positive influence on team morale and his encouragement of others earned him a Plaque Award for significant local contribution to LandSar.
"Ian is always thinking ahead with an aim of preparing and positioning Far North SAR to provide a professional service to our community."