The Air Force have been awarded for their rescue at Wharariki Beach in 2016. Photo/Supplied

Airforce awarded for Wharariki Beach rescue

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A Royal NZ Air Force squadron was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for winching tourists in a thunderstorm at the 2016 New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Council’s awards last night.

The 3 Squadron NH90 were crucial in the rescue of two tourists who were stranded on the Archway Rocks at Wharariki Beach near Nelson in appalling weather on February 17.

The 3 Squadron NH90 included: Squadron Leader and aircraft captain Paul Aitken, Flight Lieutenant Loic Ifrah, Warrant Officer Chris Mitchell, Corporal Aeron Mellish and Corporal Alex Taylor.

The crew left Ohakea at 5.45pm and arrived to find the tourists nestled on a small ledge at the base of a 60m cliff.

Winds of up to 50 knots, heavy rain, thunderstorms and a cloud base reducing to 300ft meant other helicopters were unable to carry out the rescue.

Onshore wind was also causing 3 metre breaking waves.

Squadron Leader Paul Aitken unloaded extra personnel and equipment nearby which the NZSAR Council said “demonstrated superior airmanship, noting the pressures of the fading light, the weather and sea conditions”.

Amid concerns that the rotor wash could blow the survivors into the severely disturbed water, Paul held a “very challenging” hover position as Chris conducted a 60m winch lowering Aeron to the tourists.

The woman was rescued first, using a hypothermic strop, and then Aeron was winched a second time to rescue the man.

“The combination of a capable helicopter operated by a very capable crew saved the lives

of the two tourists, who would not have survived due to the conditions with no other feasible means of rescue,” the NZSAR Council noted.

-Story with NZ Herald