A recent callout for the New Zealand Police Dive Squad was to Maruia Falls in search of a missing male person, who had jumped over the falls in a foolish set of bravado, particularly as the river was in full flood, discoloured and carrying much flotsam and jetsam. The body was not found until a couple of weeks later, the remains found washed up on a beach near Westport.

It has been some time since the dive squad have been active in the Top of the South, the last I can recall being in 2000 as part of the seven-year search for Leo Lipp-Neighbours, who mysteriously disappeared with his car in the middle of the night. The searching went far and wide with police appealing to the public for assistance. Underwater searches of some areas around Port Nelson were carried out but still no success. Leo’s body was eventually found in a most obvious location off the edge of the wharf behind Guyton’s seafood shop on Rocks Road.

Another well publicised rescue that captured the attention of most of New Zealand was of Rob Hewitt, a former navy diver, who went missing in waters near Mana Island. He drifted for four days and three nights treading water as the tides moved him between Mana Island and Kapiti Island, February 2006.

In this case it was the New Zealand Navy Dive Squad who found and rescued him. His book ‘Treading Water’ tells the full story, a great read of a miracle survival.

This reminded me of the Queens Service Medal awarded to Peter Thompson for 25 years of service to the New Zealand Police Dive Squad. A lengthy interview with him makes for very insightful reading about the squad and the training they undergo – the Navy Ships Divers’ Course in Auckland. He makes the point most of the human searches become, “body recovery,” rather than, “body rescue.”

A standout for him was rescue of John Hutley from the fishing vessel, Jan, fishing out of Westport, trapped in an air pocket up in the bow. This story was published in full in The Fishing Paper about 10 years ago.

If you missed it and would like a copy you could email The Fishing Paper or try [email protected]

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