Pro rescue service call

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Climber ‘rescue insurance’ might fund much-needed full-time professionals for Queenstown’s alpine rescue team, its co-leader says.

Veteran mountaineering instructor and guide Chris Prudden is calling for the district to up its game as more people get in trouble in the mountains.

Having full-timers means the team – which is staffed by volunteers - can respond within the “golden hour” more often.

Prudden says in some European countries climbers pay about $50 a year for “rescue insurance”.

“If you got rescued and you didn’t have insurance, you would pay the costs, which would probably be a minimum of $2000.” 

He wants four or five of the alpine cliff rescue team’s dozen volunteers to be paid to be on standby 24/7, and suggests a rescue insurance scheme could help pay their salaries.

The team could respond to callouts throughout the Queenstown, Wanaka and Fiordland areas.

Prudden says people critically injured in the mountains usually died within the so-called golden hour if they did not receive treatment.

However, “more often than not” it took the team more than an hour to reach rescue sites.

“We need to up our game – the environment is challenging and we need to have services on tap.

“People can say we’ve coped fairly well until now. That’s fine, but when a plane hits the side of one of these mountains here – a big plane – we will find out how limited our services are.”

The team’s members tended to have jobs they could not leave at a moment’s notice, so only a fraction of the team were able to respond at any one time.

Queenstown Climbing Club president Eddie Gapper says the club supported any move that sped up the team’s response time, as it was vitally important injured climbers received treatment as quickly as possible.

The club does not have a view on how a partly professional alpine rescue service is funded, but is adamant rescued climbers should not be charged.

Such charges would act as a disincentive to those in trouble to call for help, and was incompatible with New Zealand’s outdoor culture, Gapper says.

Otago Lakes-Central area commander Inspector Olaf Jensen won’t comment on Prudden’s suggestion because the idea “hasn’t been explored”.

“We are very well served by a dedicated group of volunteers right through the LandSAR network, and we have helicopters that can respond to these incidents.”

Otago Daily Times