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Heroic Hawke’s Bay Surf Lifeguards Honoured At New Zealand Search And Rescue Awards

Hawke’s Bay SAR Squad/Supplied

Hawke’s Bay surf lifeguards have been recognised at the country’s most prestigious Search and Rescue (SAR) awards.

On Tuesday, 21 May 2024, the Hon Matt Doocey, Associate Minister for Transport, presented the 2023 New Zealand SAR Awards at Government House in Wellington.

These awards are presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievements within New Zealand’s SAR region, which covers 30 million square kilometres.

Duncan Ferner, New Zealand SAR Secretariat Director, said, “The stories behind each award are humbling to read. Each recipient has demonstrated exceptional dedication to SAR. Their service and accomplishments are an inspiration to us all.”

Awards given in the Operations category recognised significant rescue operations that took place between 1 January and 31 December 2023.

The Hawke’s Bay SLSNZ SAR Squad received the Gold Award for Operational for the rescue of over 200 people from Esk Valley and Pakowhai during Cyclone Gabrielle on 14 February 2023.

Jess Bennett, Hawke’s Bay SAR Coordinator, said, “The conditions on the water during the rescue operations were like nothing we had experienced before, with houses and vehicles completely submerged. Our teams had to navigate Inflatable Rescue Boats under power lines and around debris, all while carrying out complex rescues.”

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Following the cyclone, SAR squads from other regions responded swiftly to help. However, the Hawke’s Bay SAR Squad, with their local knowledge, became integral in the response.

Bennett said, “It’s humbling for our SAR squad to be awarded this honour. We saw it as a privilege to be able to protect and respond to our community when Cyclone Gabrielle struck. It caused so much devastation to the region, and our thoughts are with those who are still, to this day, feeling its effects.”

Steve Fisher, SLSNZ CEO, said, “I am incredibly proud of the Hawke’s Bay SAR Squad and the way they responded to Cyclone Gabrielle. They acted with courage and compassion and went above and beyond to provide support.”

Awards given in the Support category recognised the contributions of individuals to SAR in New Zealand.

Forty nominations were received for 2023, with two Gold Awards and 10 Certificates of Achievement being awarded at this year’s ceremony.

Phil Harman, Waimārama Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) member, received a NZSAR Certificate of Achievement for Support Activity for his service and commitment to SAR and Surf Life Saving in Hawke’s Bay.

Phil Harman said, “I first joined Waimārama SLSC back in 1982 and have been involved in the SAR squad for over 20 years. During this time, I’ve overseen operations and developed an incredible and highly skilled team. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the SAR community and am deeply moved to receive this award. Being able to protect and look after our local community is an honour, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and the club.”

Fisher said, “It’s hard to define the impact Phil has had as it’s been enormous – not only through the many lives saved but also through the development of SAR members and surf lifeguards. His knowledge and experience in the marine SAR space is highly regarded and will be missed. We wish him all the best with his retirement.”

For the year ending 31 December 2023, there were 3,514 SAR incidents, 814 people rescued, and 62,979 operational people hours.

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