Searchers can now locate and rescue missing people from a staggeringly large area in as little as 40 minutes thanks to advancing technology.
The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand coordinates major maritime, aviation and land based search and rescue operations in New Zealand.
A team of 14 senior search and rescue officers, who man the centre 24 hours a day, use various aviation and maritime tracking systems to help them locate missing people.
When a distress beacon is set off within the 30 million square kilometre search and rescue area, the systems help them to work out how to respond to the distress call as quickly as possible.
Advancements in the centre's systems mean they can now respond faster than ever.
Senior search and rescue officer Geoff Lunt has been working at the centre in Avalon in Wellington for 10 years.
"Modern technology definitely makes the job easier," he said.
"It helps us solve the puzzle about where these boats, planes and helicopters get to before they went missing."
Mr Lunt said the amount of time it took to locate someone depended on circumstances, such as location or terrain.
"The fastest from activation of the personal locator beacon to hospital was 40 minutes ... It can be really fast."
Systems in use include long range maritime tracking information which allows the centre to locate up to 60,000 vessels worldwide.
Officers can select a vessel and zoom in to see what it is, where it is going and what its present position is, Mr Lunt said.
A search planning tool works out the drift of an object in the water in real time, and Google Earth makes it easier to see if objects, such as mountains, may have interrupted flight paths.
"It helps us respond a lot more quickly and effectively ... It is really good to get this technology and be able to use it to get a good result."
The Rescue Coordination Centre relied on six low-Earth orbiting satellites to pick up distress beacon signals, which were tracked through a separate system, Mr Lunt said.
All commercial air traffic travelling in or out of New Zealand was monitored and a system called TracPlus let searchers hone in on any helicopter in the country and find its flight path, Mr Lunt said.
The centre can then use the last known position of the aircraft to try to work out what direction it may have travelled in next, and how far it could have travelled before it went down.
"A lot of it is thinking outside the box," he said.
Officers were required to weigh up the possibilities and probabilities of what pilots, skippers and crew members may have done before they went missing, he said.
Mr Lunt said there were 48,000 registered personal locator beacons in New Zealand.
He urged anyone planning to travel in remote areas to make sure they had one with them.
"Anyone who is going out needs to make sure they have the knowledge, experience and equipment to get themselves out of difficulty if need be."
What does the Rescue Coordination Centre do?
- Provide search and rescue (SAR) services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
- Every year it responds to about 800 search and rescue incidents. This year it has responded to 620.
- It covers a 30 million square kilometre search and rescue region extending from the Tasman Sea to halfway to Chile, and from the South Pole almost to the equator.
- Its team of 14 search and rescue officers is trained to international search and rescue standards and has a wide range of experience in marine, aviation and land search and rescue.
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