Tauranga Sarex "Op Hanga"New
The Tauranga SAREX "Op Hanga" was held in the Kamai's over the weekend 5-6 Nov 2011. HQ was in a large woolshed off Hanga Road courtesy of the local farmer. Hamilton SAR gp was represented by Scott, myself and Gemma (aka Dog). Members from Waihi and Rotorua SAR groups also attended. The scenario was a group of four (1x school teacher and 3x young students) had ventured into the ranges early Friday morning for a day trip and no contact since. 5 teams (Kaimai’s 1-5) were deployed into the field mid Sat morning by the Tauranga 4wd club, with the AREC providing comms. Tauranga video club were also there to capture the action throughout the weekend. I was 'Kaimai 6' with Gemma and we remained at base and did some training with Paul Robb a member of Tauranga SAR who is training a dog. The field teams did some excellent TCA along the tracks they had been tasked to clear, which gave the IMT the opportunity to concentrate resources in high probability areas. A number of clues were found by the teams including wrappers of food the party was known to be carrying as well as positively identifying footprints from acetates. Mid saturday afternoon we deployed along with Paul Robb, Tauranga who would manage comms/nav. We had to cover around 5km to complete our initial tasking which was to clear a large section of track in order to determine if the lost party had crossed it. We did discover where ‘Kaimai 2’ had completed some TCA on a possible area and Gemma showed quite a lot of interest into the bush either side of the track but we determined it was just the sign-cutting team, as no tracks lead deeper into the bush. Enroute to our final destination, the junction of N-S track and West Henderson Tramline, Gemma sniffed out off the track a pair of old socks, which had seen better days, so we left them behind and continued on. We camped overnight at the junction after all teams had been stood down for the day. Gemma camped ‘outside’ the tent, a sign of summer coming perhaps as during the SAREX on Pirongia she was in the tent before the first pole went in. (Meanwhile back in Hamilton everyone else was getting a pager message for a search in Coromandel!) Early Sunday morning all teams received new tasks and ours was to cut into the bush south of the Henderson tramline from the N-S track and head west to try to locate any clues of the lost party. After we negotiated around some large boggy areas Gemma picked up a track which took us further west but it wasn’t exactly easy going, but Gemma continued to show interest so ‘trust your dog’ we pressed on. After a couple hundred metres more and a couple of good steep climbs through the bush and with intensity rising all the time Gemma led us straight to a bivvy site. We did some clue processing at the site to quickly establish it was the missing party, and with school book and names it was pretty easy to ID them. With that radio'd we decided to give Gemma a cast around the camp area and a clearing in the vicinity to see if we could locate a track leading away from the site. We knew they may not have been gone long from camp as all gear including jackets and packs etc were still there and all seemed to have been used very recently. After a few mins of working the areas Gemma picked up track which led further west into the bush and passed a drag line and into the bush again. It was a good track with clear indications backed up by visual sign along the way. We arrived at a clearing with good track traps and we could positively ID the footprint of the adult as we had an acetate. Just as we were leaving the clearing Gemma drew hard left and about 3m off the track into the bush she located what we found to be a wrapped and hidden pack, looked to have been there for some time, years possibly, so we radio it in. We continued tracking into the bush, but we seemed to be heading back to the camp, confirmed by GPS, and sure enough we did go right back to the camp, so we had done almost a full circle. Thought that was strange. We decided to do some more clue processing of the campsite and advise IMT we were back at the site. We relayed more info back. While Paul was processing camp clues, we decided I would take Gemma through another 50--60m sweep around the site to see if we could locate another track. Sure enough she found one. She was off leash and started to follow the track. I yelled back to Paul we were onto something and would follow a bit. I let Gemma 'free-track' through the bush because with the supple jack it was near impossible to manage a tracking line without getting into knots, she was tracking nicely and I had a good feeling we were going to find the missing party this time. There was a slight wind but it was blowing away so wouldn’t be much help for us to air scent. Enroute Gemma indicated just off the track under a leaf which turned out to be a tiny blue rubber hair tie, I picked that up thinking I would might be able to return it. About 60m away in the bush, we tracked right up to the 4 missing persons. After a quick check the party we all fine, there was a big play for Gemma and a hair tie returned to its owner (who didn’t realise they had dropped it!). As it turned out, the other track was them looking around for other potential camp sites. I don’t think we would have picked the track up had we not decided to go a little bit deeper into less contaminated ground, because with four people I think the area close to the camp was quite trashed so it was hard to discriminate a single track out and whatever breeze there was wasn’t working in our favour. We then spent the next few hours walking out with the team. Overall an excellent SAREX, and great learning experience. Tauranga SAR Group and Police put on an awesome weekend for everyone. Special thanks to Roger Montgomerie and Graeme Mills. Arrived home about 2pm Sunday afternoon, unpacked the wet gear, then a few hours later the pager went off, and we all know what happened next.