Nearly $60,000 was spent rescuing 38 people stranded after their 4WD vehicles became trapped in snow in Central Otago.

The group - including children - spent almost 20 hours stranded more than 1300m above sea level on the Old Man Range above Piano Flat, near Roxburgh, on May 23.

The 13 vehicles had to be abandoned high up Waikaia Bush Rd after becoming trapped in 2m snowdrifts, but were recovered last month.

Police today released costs related to the operation, which have been calculated at $56,927.53. This included staff wages, costs of hiring equipment and vehicles, and a rescue helicopter.


Inspector Olaf Jensen, Otago Lakes Area Commander, said police had a statutory obligation to provide search and rescue services (SAR) as part of their normal business and were funded to do this.

"Police's prime objective in any SAR operation is always the welfare and safe recovery of those who are missing, along with ensuring the safety of all of those involved in the search," he said.

"Cost is never a factor over the safety and welfare of those needing assistance when determining the appropriate course of action or which resources to use.

"I'm sure that if any of us were in trouble in the bush, on the water or in the air and needing rescue, we would be very grateful that cost does not factor into operational decision-making."

Insp Jensen said volunteers made an invaluable contribution.

"I would especially like to thank the dedicated and hardworking volunteers, as well as the police staff and many others who assisted with this large and challenging SAR operation."

He also thanked the Defence Force for the use of their NH90 helicopter.

Insp Jensen said nationally, the cost of police search and rescue operations remained consistent over the last five years (2010/11 to 2014/15), averaging out at $2,945,338.71 per year.

Police data did not indicate any significant increasing trend in the number of SAR incidents.