Marine rescue emphasises the importance of Rescue Helicopter

Roger Malthus Rescue

Roger Malthus never thought he’d need the services of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter, until a boating accident in late 2020 left him clinging to a scuba tank in the Tasman Sea.

“As chair of another charity organisation, I’ve always admired the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust and how they do things – not really thinking I’d need their help one day!”

The prominent Taranaki businessman was one of three fishermen who were thrown overboard when their boat flipped crossing the bar at the Pātea river mouth.

Roger’s two companions reached the coast shortly after the incident. However, the 72-year-old was left floating offshore, holding on to his scuba tank after his lifejacket failed in inflate.

Despite the malfunction, Roger managed to keep his calm in the water, and shortly after the accident the coastguard arrived on the scene. Once he saw the coastguard, Roger began wondering if the rescue helicopter would be deployed.

“With the river being low, I hoped that the Rescue Helicopter would be informed to provide some assistance,” he says.

Not only was the rescue helicopter deployed, so were the police, the South Taranaki Coastguard, and an Air Force Orion P3 airplane.

Following the accident, Roger’s two fishing companions managed to make their way to shore, as well as the upturned boat while he continued to keep himself afloat in the churning Tasman Sea.

“It was a while before I heard the helicopter coming and that was a major relief,” says Roger.

The helicopter scoured the sea around the overturned boat for a while before landing on the beach, with a decision made to track further out directly from the river mouth.

“Once we decided to extend our search further out to sea, we were very lucky to find him on our first pass when our ICP Heath Gillot spotted him out the left side of the aircraft. He could quite easily have been missed,” recalls crewman Ed Garvey.

By that time, Roger had been in the water for over an hour and his rescue would be difficult with no distinguishing features in the grey ocean.

“There is great difficulty finding someone in the swell, who is semi submerged without the bright colours of an inflated life jacket, or a personal locator beacon,” said Garvey.

On locating Roger, rescue swimmer Mike Melody was deployed by the Methanex Rescue Winch into the sea to assist him.

“I gave the helicopter the thumbs up and waved my hands at them and when Mike arrived on the winch, I said, ‘Hell, am I lucky to see you!’. He didn’t take long to clip me on and get me up into the chopper,” says Roger.

The pair were winched to safety and once on shore, Roger was attended to by St John Ambulance, before being transferred to Hāwera Hospital to be checked and was eventually discharged.

“It could have cost me my life if it wasn’t for these guys.”

As an avid boatie and fisherman, Roger’s keen on sharing lessons from his experience to help others avoid going through the same ordeal. He’s passionate about emphasising four key points:
understanding the tide times,
– providing an accurate location with the coastguard on the radio,
– checking your equipment, and
– having a personal locator beacon.

Recently, Roger was one of thousands of people who attended the Rescue Helicopter Open Day at its hangar at Taranaki Base Hospital, selling raffle tickets to raise funds and letting people know how vital the service is for the region.

“We are very fortunate to have it and the dedicated people who run the service.”