New Zealand Bravery Star

As the riverbed's shingle tightened its grip, 14-year-old Marek Staats cried out to the man trying to save him that he was going to die.

"Not you're not," Peter Deam told the boy as he dug frantically to keep Marek's head above water and shingle out of his mouth.


In a last-ditch effort, Mr Deam stripped off his clothes and dived in, swimming into the dangerous channel formed by the moving shingle.

He found Marek's legs and tried to push him free from below. But his efforts were in vain, and just as the emergency services arrived Marek drowned. A digger had to be used to retrieve his body.

Although it is almost five years since the tragedy on the Waihao River, Waimate, Mr Deam still prefers not to talk about it. Today his efforts have been formally recognised with the awarding of the New Zealand Bravery Star.

At his Waimate home Mr Deam said he was honoured to have been nominated, but did not feel he had done anything unusual. He tried his best, but as he was unable to save Marek, he feels his actions "weren't really enough".

Waimate sergeant Mike van der Heyden, who nominated Mr Deam, says: "He was extremely brave to try for so long in such dangerous conditions."

Marek became trapped after stopping to retrieve his stepbrother's gumboot in the moving shingle, where it had become stuck. "The stones got faster and faster," Simon Woodham-Staats told the coroner's court. "I tried to pull him out of the stones but I couldn't."

He ran for help and found Mr Deam at the carpark. Mr Deam tried to free Marek with his hands but the shingle's pull was too great. He got a rope from his car and looped it under the boy's arms. When that did not work he drove to the nearest house to get help. When he returned Marek was buried to his chest, which was when Mr Deam got in the water.

Sergeant van der Heyden also nominated 15-year-old Hamish Neal, from Waimate, who drowned as he tried to rescue a fellow student. Mr Neal has been posthumously awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal.



New Zealand Bravery Decoration

Brian Pickering had never encountered weather like it.

Snow was heavy on the ground and the wind chill factor was reaching minus 30C as he made his way along a ridge in the Kaimanawa Ranges in September 2000.

Mr Pickering knew there were two trampers ahead of him, as he could make out their footprints in the snow. He did not expect, however, to round a bend and find them "half standing, half lying in the snow".

"They were in a mess. I didn't even have to talk to them to know they were not in a good way."

He knew straight away that the pair, Aucklander John Painting and his son, Matthew, were developing hypothermia, as their mental abilities appeared to be slowing down.

"If you can't work out your own backpack straps, it is not a good sign."

Mr Pickering, a mental health nurse with a lifetime's tramping experience here and in his native Britain, took them below a track, placed them in their sleeping bags and gave them food.

He then called emergency services on his cellphone and provided directions for search parties.

Seventeen hours later, they were rescued.

Years on, and asked if the experience taught him anything, Mr Pickering takes a moment to answer.

"It confirmed I could cope in those conditions. I guess I did learn something, but it is hard to put it into words."

Roger Blumhardt, Brendan Dobbyn and Kevin Singer were members of a Turangi rescue team that answered Mr Pickering's emergency call.

The three men began hunting for the group, at times crawling on their hands and knees in the hellish conditions.

They ignored calls to turn back, believing they were the only hope for the lost trampers. Eventually they were forced to call off the search and seek shelter.

Mr Pickering was thrilled to hear the trio had also earned awards, saying he believed they were, in many ways, braver than he was.

"What they did was more than I did, because I came across it and could not do something about it. But they actually volunteered to come out."

John Painting was also pleased to hear the men had received awards, particularly Mr Pickering.

"I still think about him a lot. I find it hard to put into words. We were very lucky to meet that guy."

Mr Painting and his son, now 17, have been back to the mountains since their ordeal, but not that area of the Kaimanawas.

New Zealand Bravery Medal



New Zealand Bravery Medal

Flight Sergeant Christopher Jowsey has served around the world, from Northern Ireland and the Balkans to East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

But he had to go to the Whangaehu River to almost lose his life.

The 34-year-old, then a sergeant, was the winchman on an RNZAF Iroquois helicopter sent from Ohakea Air Force Base to Kauangaroa, east of Wanganui, during the floods which devastated parts of Wanganui and Manawatu last February.

Two men were caught in fast-moving floodwaters, thick with hay bales, uprooted trees and dead stock.

Flight Sergeant Jowsey pulled out one who was trapped in chest-deep water, but the second was swept away.

The helicopter flew farther downstream, and Flight Sergeant Jowsey was lowered into the water to wait for the man to wash past. As he caught him, their combined weight, the force of the water and the tension on the winch dragged them both under.

Flight Sergeant Jowsey reckons he was underwater for 20 to 30 seconds.

"I was getting a bit concerned. At the same time I was trying to get the guy we were rescuing into the rescue strop."

Then his boot got snagged.

To make matters worse, the cable, if caught, could pull the helicopter into the water. He knew his team would cut it before that happened, leaving him to fend for himself.

"It was the riskiest situation I have been in."

Flight Sergeant Jowsey finally managed to get free.

All the time he had been fighting to free his boot and weigh the odds, the flight sergeant had held on to the man, knowing that otherwise he would be swept away.

Finally, the helicopter lifted the pair to safety.

By day's end, Flight Sergeant Jowsey and his team had rescued 16 people from the floods.

But he does not consider himself a hero. Receiving a New Zealand Bravery Medal was an honour, he said, and his family were "proud as Punch".

"I think anyone else would have done the same thing as me. It was just me who was in the wrong place at the right time."