loading up in Whangārei before completing a daring night-time rescue at Spirit's Bay. Photo / Supplied
A team of skilled rescuers trusted in each other during a daring night-time mission to save a trapped climber on a remote coastal cliff face in Northland.
A 21-year-old man from Auckland was on his first day of a Northland road trip when he decided to climb up a rock face at Spirits Bay, 90km north of Kaitaia and between Cape Reinga and North Cape, and became trapped on a small ledge about 40 metres above the beach and 15m from the summit on Thursday.
The alarm was raised about 9pm and the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter stopped in Whangārei to collect three members of the cliff rescue team, who are part of the Northland LandSAR squad, before flying to the Far North.
Members of the cliff rescue team Shane Cleary, Grant Brown and Dean Rozendaal were flown over the long and narrow site a couple of times and night vision goggles were used to locate the stuck climber.
A winch rescue was considered too dangerous as the down draft of the aircraft may have been enough to blow the man off the very narrow ledge he was perched on.
Cleary said due to the unstable nature of the site the helicopter was unable to land but instead touched the wheels down and kept the power on while the team unloaded their gear. They established voice contact with the man.
"We then started looking for a suitable anchor but there were no trees or decent rocks that we could use," Cleary said.
That meant using steel plates and pins as anchor points. However, the rock was unsuitable and started "blowing apart" as the pins were being driven in.
"We were unable to find a suitable anchor to do a traditional rescue so we had to set up a counter balance system."
That involved Brown and Rozendaal sitting down and wedging themselves against rocks to become the anchor and counter-balance for Cleary, who lowered himself down the cliff on a twin rope system.
Cleary reached the man, who was wearing shorts, a jersey but no shoes, got him in a harness and warm clothes.
"I don't think he intended to climb so high but found himself in a position where the rock was very crumbly. He couldn't go up or down. In that environment he did the right thing to stay put."
They talked through a plan and safely made it up the cliff uninjured and he was flown to the campground at Spirits Bay, where the local fire brigade had set up a landing pad, and he rejoined his travelling companions.
Cleary, who has been a member of the rescue team since 1994, said the rescue was "out of the box" with no traditional anchors available and made more difficult because it was done at night.
He said the rescue was a real team effort and during training with his fellow team members they had developed trust in each other.