Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dumped beacon sets off search

The team who searched for the beacon were Paul Hail, Wally Mitchell, Derick McFarlane and in the background is Craig Atkin. 
Photo/ Northland Service Trust.

Rescuers wasted hours searching for an emergency beacon and eventually discovered it in a pile of rubbish at a Northland dump after it was incorrectly disposed of.

The incident has emergency service workers pleading with the public to ensure old or obsolete beacons are disposed of carefully, to ensure they are not set off by accident.

The Northland Electricity rescue helicopter team took to the sky ready to winch people from a stricken vessel when the alarm was raised about 10.30am yesterday.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre of NZ, based in Wellington, alerted the helicopter team of an activated beacon on a boat, which was showing co-ordinates between Marsden Pt and and Great Barrier Island. Rescue chopper pilot Russell Procter said the team prepared with crew and equipment to winch people from a vessel at sea if needed.

Once in the air the crew was able to use GPS devices to pinpoint the beacon to the Portland area and previous experience indicated the dump was the likely location.

The team landed and with help from staff at the Puwera Landfill hunted through piles of trash using a hand-held tracking device. Landfill manager Mike Burr said a digger and bulldozer were used to shift rubbish to find the beacon.

"We worked out early on it was in some recent rubbish," Mr Burr said.

He said it was easy to take out the batteries from the device so it would not activate. "It's a disturbance to us but nothing compared to the cost and time getting a rescue helicopter in the air. This is carelessness and people not thinking about the bigger picture."

Mr Proctor said the rescue team were called to a similar incident in September and a beacon was activated in the same dump.

"It requires time and resources to get the helicopter and crew in the air."

It is the beacon owner's responsibility to ensure that the beacon is disposed of correctly and it needs to be done carefully.

The battery must be disconnected and the beacon disposed of according to local regulations, as many beacons contain hazardous materials. Contact your local beacon retailer, or police station, to arrange appropriate disposal of old, unwanted distress beacons.


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