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Issue No. 412 April 2017

Eagle - rescue from above

How it’s done – a training jump from Eagle.

Six months after joining Auckland’s Air Support Unit (ASU), Constable Josh French put training into practice with his first ‘real’ jump as a rescue swimmer.

The Eagle helicopter was called to Cornwallis Wharf, Manukau Harbour, where a kayak was struggling in a swift tide on 29 March. They found it some distance from its reported position.

“One guy was in the kayak and looking a bit stressed out; the other was in the water, hanging on to the bow,” says Josh. “He was the one we were concerned about.

“With the camera we could even see his lip quivering with the cold. It looked like he was in the early stages of hypothermia and in danger of letting go. We needed to assess him.”

Josh changed into a wetsuit and fins – “not easy in the back of a chopper” - and jumped from about ten metres with lifesaving equipment.

Constable Josh French and the kayakers in the water.

“I managed to stabilise the guy in the water and get more information about his condition. He was better than we thought - in the early stages of hypothermia and tiring, but not in need of immediate medical assistance.

“The main goal was to get him back into the kayak. I got him in but because he was so tired and cold his balance wasn’t the best and he tipped both of them out.”

Josh got both men – who he credits for wearing lifejackets – into the kayak. The Coastguard launch arrived and took all three to shore. As paramedics aided the kayakers, it was on to the next job for Eagle and Josh.

The eight ASU officers are trained rescue swimmers, and six hold a qualification, though jumps are rare.

Jumps require a team decision by the two officers and civilian pilot on the spot. Factors include the degree of danger facing the subject and the ability of a vessel or rescue helicopter to quickly reach the scene. Eagle has no winch to retrieve people.

Eagle supervisor Sergeant Callum Young says such incidents highlight the diversity of policing and the need to be prepared for the unexpected.

“Despite not being a dedicated rescue helicopter, the public still expect us to do something when things go wrong,” he says.

“Constable French and the other crew made sound judgement calls and, in doing so, likely saved a man from serious harm. They’ve all done us proud.”

He thanked the Westpac rescue helicopter and Coastguard for their assistance, and the Police Maritime Unit for managing the incident.

Eagle first flew in 1988, in the form of a Bell 206 JetRanger equipped with binoculars and a map book. Now its two twin-engine Aerospatiale AS355s have state-of-the-art equipment including Forward Looking Infrared camera (FLIR) and real-time downlink technology.

As well as policing in Metro Auckland, Eagle can support national policing efforts and other emergency services.

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