Search & Rescue says foreigners failing to donate

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Cash-strapped Wakatipu Search & Rescue could use more donations from people it saves – especially those from overseas. 

“We’re called out to a number of foreign people and it’s not often we see [donations] forthcoming from that direction,” SAR chairman Richard Kennett says. 

Kennett maintains “a lot” of overseas people they rescue simply expect to be saved – but they don’t expect to donate in return. 

“There’s more overseas people requiring our help, I think, there’s more people out and about in the backblocks.” 

Local SAR personnel had 55 callouts in the year to June 2010 and Kennett estimates only about half those rescued made a monetary donation. 

Those donations are important because Wakatipu SAR ran at a $21,714 loss in its 2010 financial year – compared with 2009’s $17,598 surplus. A $31,000 drop in donations – to just $5315 last year – was the main reason for the huge reverse. 

National body New Zealand Land SAR boosted its grant to the Wakatipu group by $15,500 – but that’s not really enough, Kennett adds. 

“If you’re a busy area like the Wakatipu, it’s probably not as much as we really would like or need to do all the things we need to do.” 

Kennett says he and other SAR colleagues throughout the country believe rescues of foreigners should be paid for from their travel insurance. 

However, any decision to charge for backcountry rescues would have to be “by Government decree”. 

Despite the fall-off in donations, Kennett isn’t too worried: “People realise the valuable service [we] do and we haven’t been stuck yet.” 

He’s been involved with Wakatipu SAR for about 30 years. 

According to the group’s official records, volunteers collectively put in about 50 hours a week – the average rescue involves three people including a helicopter pilot. 

Some of their work is very close to home, Kennett says. 

The Moonlight and Ben Lomond tramps are “probably our biggest area of concern in the Wakatipu”, accounting for about one-third of all callouts. 

“People are just not aware of what they’re taking on so close to a built-up area,” Kennett warns. 

They often get caught out by darkness on the Moonlight or Ben Lomond – “That’s probably the biggest thing.”