By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yeah, we wept, when we remembered...

Yesterday, I was chatting with friends on Telegram, and leaving comments in Markethive and CTPtalk; trying to be as helpful as I could be. That's just my nature, that's who I am.

Last night, a mind blank. I wanted to blog something, just too tired. Got up this morning, a few minutes ago, and I remembered something...

An early phone call that day in 1981 got me up. A police officer had rung me. “There's a chap missing in the bush, and we're putting together a search team. Are you available?”, he said.

I'd been with the Tararua Tramping Club for a few years now, and there was a bunch of us who'd just completed search and rescue training. Am I available? Of course!

I headed off to the Wellington Railway Station with my kit, ready for a day or two in the bush. The weather forecast was good, as that should be in late summer: clear skies with a light breeze to cool the walk.

Into the bus about 40 of us clambered, and off to Kaitoke. My first SAR, what an adventure!

Just as we arrived at the launching off point, coming in low and fast, was a helicopter. The pilot jumped out and wandered over to us. “Give us a few minutes”, he said, “we need to refuel”.

Peter Button, a true helicopter pioneer here in New Zealand. He had set up Capital Helicopters in 1975. He had witnessed the Wahine disaster back in '68, when so many passengers on that stricken ferry died. He wanted to help somehow. Later in life, he was able to help in his own way.

“Right, let's be off!”, Peter said. The helicopter could squeeze in five and the pilot, so we quickly formed teams and off we went...yep, this really was an adventure!

He flew fast, and low, scaring the birds out of the bush as we plowed through the treetops. There's the river, the Ruamahanga, just ahead of us. Spotting a clearing in the thick bush – about the size of an average lounge room – he landed; skillfully, gently, no thump, and no bump. Peter was born to fly!

Out, and on our way. Somewhere ahead, and soon behind, were the other SAR teams.

The day before, three men had left Kaitoke and headed off into the bush. Being ill equipped, they had the clothes they were wearing, a small lunch-box each, and their .22 rifles. Hunters, or so they thought! First time out hunting together, first time in the Tararua Ranges, first time in real New Zealand bush; a recipe for disaster.

The chap had gotten lost. He followed the wrong path. Realising he was lost, he walked up the spur to the ridgeline, found a comfortable place, and waited. If he had only gone down to the river, Peter and his spotter mate would have seen him. No, mistake led to mistake.

The group just ahead of us found him first. He had heard the shouting and he walked down to meet up with them.

Lucky guy, he survived a night in the bush. If that was wintertime, the result would have been certain and we would have had to walk in, all eight miles!

Lucky guy, he got a helicopter ride out while we had to walk out.

Downstream three miles we walked, chest deep in a bend in the river then up a 30 foot bluff holding onto whatever we could to get to the top. Time to catch our breathe, then a five mile walk to the main road to catch the waiting bus home.

OK, I hear you, there must be a story in here somewhere! Yep, and here it is: on November 20, 1987 Peter Button died living his passion. His Bell Jetranger hit overhead high-tension electricity cables, and plummeted 600 feet to the ground below. That was a really sad day.

So, this one is for all the true heroes of the world. You know who you are, putting yourself in harm's way from time to time – perhaps even every day – to help other people in their time of need. Here's to people like Prince William, the late Peter Button, and so many others.

When the collectors come to your door and ask for a few pennies for the local helicopter rescuers, please do give them something. You never know, that could be you in need on the side of the road after a bad car smash, or lost in the bush, or adrift on the open sea.

Please, do give generously, as the rescuers themselves have given so generously.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yeah, we wept, when we remembered...

Ian Ballantine
Wellington, New Zealand
October 4, 2019.

Comments 3

WOW... kudos to those who risk their own lives to help people in need!!!

03.10.2019 22:50

thanks for commenting Renee. yes, too easy to forget that misadventure puts other people in jeopardy.

04.10.2019 03:33