Two Northland volunteer groups have been honoured for daring rescue missions — one in wild seas off Cape Brett, the other from a cliff late at night at Spirits Bay.
At 9pm on December 21, 2019, police were notified a man was trapped on a cliff at Spirits Bay, 16km east of Cape Reinga.
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was dispatched from Auckland, stopping in Whangārei to pick up a specialist cliff rescue team from volunteer search and rescue group Northland LandSAR.
The original plan was to winch the 21-year-old Aucklander into the helicopter but once the crew arrived it was clear the rotor blades would blow him off the cliff to the ground 50m below.
The chopper dropped off the three-man cliff rescue crew — Shane Cleary, Dean Rozendaal and Grant Brown — who planned to climb down to the trapped man and make sure he was warm and secure until daylight, when it would be safe to attempt a winch rescue.
Once they were on top of the cliff, however, they found the rock was crumbly and there was nothing they could fix a rope to. Instead they set up a belay system with the rope attached to Rozendaal and Brown, who acted as a counterweight while Cleary descended the cliff in howling winds.
When Cleary saw the man was perched on a narrow ledge he realised waiting until daybreak wasn't an option.
Cleary gave him warm clothes, secured him in a harness, and together they climbed the cliff using a self-belay system. They reached the top with just one minor slip.
The 21-year-old was hover-loaded into the chopper and delivered to his family at Spirits Bay campground.
At the time Cleary described the rescue as ''one out of the box'' with no normal anchor points available and made more difficult by darkness.
This week New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) announced the daring cliff mission had earned the team a certificate of achievement, due to be awarded in Whangārei on August 21.
NZSAR said the ''training, professionalism and bravery of the cliff rescue team in difficult circumstances was key to the operation's success''.
The other group to receive a certificate of achievement was Coastguard Bay of Islands for their part in a rescue 20 nautical miles off Cape Brett on October 14 last year, along with the NZ Rescue Coordination Centre, the Royal NZ Air Force, and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.
That drama began with a distress call from the yacht Essence which was sinking in wild weather with four people on board. Their life raft had blown away in the storm.
Two rescue helicopters, an Air Force Orion, Navy helicopters, Coastguard Bay of Islands, a cargo ship, a Navy vessel and a police launch were all sent to the location.
The Air Force was first on the scene and managed to drop a life raft to the four sailors huddled together in the water.
Two managed to get in but the boat's skipper, Stuart Pedersen of Tauranga, and his wife Pamela became tangled in the raft's lines.
An Auckland rescue helicopter arrived 55 minutes later and winched all four on board. Three survived the ordeal but Mr Pedersen died.
Kelvin Petrie, of Kerikeri, was the skipper on the Coastguard vessel Bay Rescue II that day.
The wind was blowing 50 knots and the swell was six to 10 metres.
Petrie said the rescue boat normally travelled at 30 knots to an emergency; that day it couldn't get above eight to 12 knots and took two hours to travel 20 nautical miles.
The crew was stood down while still nine nautical miles from the scene.
''It was gnarly, the worst conditions we've been in on Bay Rescue II. Luckily I had a top crew on board.''
Their award was presented in Auckland last night. NZSAR said teamwork, cooperation and communication were crucial to the rescue of the three survivors.
The NZSAR awards are usually presented at Parliament in May but this year a series of smaller ceremonies are being held around the country due to Covid-19.