A St John paramedic who survived a helicopter crash last night near the Auckland Islands along with two others will be reunited with his anxious family tonight.
John Lambeth was onboard the aircraft with pilot Andrew Hefford and winchman Lester Stevens when it went down near Yule Island, at the northern end of the subantarctic island group.
Wreckage was discovered this morning by a fishing boat and the trio were spotted sooner after, alive, walking on a beach.
In a statement, St John said Lambeth was a paramedic who worked for the ambulance service in Te Anau.
The organisation was relieved to learn the trio were safe and well and now receiving medical treatment.
"We are providing support to the family of our paramedic and to his St John colleagues. His family feel a huge relief and is looking forward to being reunited with their husband and father later tonight. They thank everyone for their interest and well wishes and ask for you to respect their privacy at this time."
Meanwhile, Lloyd Matheson says he might owe his colleague and good mate Lester Stevens at Southern Lakes Helicopters a beer.
Matheson, operations manager for the Te Anau company and also Aviation New Zealand president, was supposed to be the volunteer winch operator on the medevac helicopter mission last night that crashed near the Auckland Islands, 465km south of New Zealand.
But due to a funeral, he swapped places with Stevens at the last minute.
"I definitely have some mixed feelings about the whole situation, I was meant to be there but asked my mate to stand in for me," Matheson told the Herald.
The three crew on board were found walking on a beach just before 10am today by rescue teams that included Sir Richard "Hannibal" Hayes, the company's CEO and chief pilot.
"We are elated to hear they are safe, this is the best news, it is like 10 Christmases have come at once," said Matheson.
The last contact with the helicopter was at 7.37pm last night near Yule Island, at the northern end of the subantarctic island group.
Since that there had been no signals from the helicopter nor distress beacons issued.
Southern Lakes Helicopters informed the Rescue Coordination Centre NZ that its helicopter was missing at 8.15pm and a search operation commenced immediately.
RCCNZ issued a mayday call last night and five fishing vessels had responded and were assisting with the search.
"We were tracking the flight and on descent about two minutes out of Enderby Island we lost full communications," Matheson said.
The fishing boats were scouring the area and a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion had been using its radar equipment.
Two helicopters had also departed this morning from Invercargill and one from Stewart Island to join the search.
Weather conditions had been poor, with low cloud in the area, the situation improved which helped with the search.
Wreckage was found this morning by a fishing boat - and the trio were later discovered alive on a beach.
Matheson said it had been a "very nervous" 16 hours since they went missing, but the wreckage gave a clue to their possible survival.
"When they picked up wreckage [that] had been found this morning it looked like the door had been ditched rather than smashed on impact, they may have jumped out."
They had been in constant touch with family and colleagues overnight.
"Everybody has been pretty nervous, but this is the best news."
Lambeth's Roxburgh-based father Ian Lambeth said news of the trio's survival was a "huge relief".
When asked if he would now tell his son to remain on solid ground, he doubted he'd have much chance of talking him round.
However, he praised the thorough training and procedural process that the company used.
"It sounds like to me a big tribute to the training and the safety gear that they use and the procedures that they've got."
He also paid tribute to the actions of the pilot.
"Oh yeah, absolutely, but I'm not sure what's happened."
When asked how he had been coping today, he said "as well as anybody copes for the last three or four hours, but no, it's all relief that they have been found and so on, it's a huge relief, obviously."
Tania Hefford and Sandra Stevens both declined to comment when approached by the Herald.
Andrew "Heff" Hefford had been a helicopter pilot of over 10 years, and had more than 6000 flying hours.
RCCNZ duty manager Kevin Banaghan said the helicopter crew – two pilots and a medic – were trained for emergency situations and would have been wearing cold-water immersion suits.
The helicopter also had a life raft and a satellite phone.