Monday, 16 July 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Operation Shannon KSAR’s greatest challenge

By Steve Hart - chairman of Kuaotunu land Search and Rescue

Kuaotunu Land Search and Rescue (KSAR) made a promise to the mother of Shannon Earle Makowharemahihi, otherwise known as Shannon Mako, that they would find her son and return him to his whanau. They fulfilled the promise when they located him last Sunday in the heart of the Coromandel Forest, 15 days after he was reported as missing.

The search for Shannon was by far KSAR’s longest and most challenging search operation since the volunteer organisation was formed in 2004. Search and Rescue volunteers from Waihi SAR, Thames SAR, Tairua-Pauanui-Whangamata SAR, Tauranga SAR, Auckland SAR and Rotorua SAR, a Waikato Fire Rescue ropes team, a Waikato Climbing Specialist (caving) team, a search and rescue dog, police SAR squads from Auckland and the Waikato, local police and the police Eagle helicopter all joined in the search operation based in Coromandel town. Shannon’s whanau arrived from Christchurch and Australia to assist with the search and to wait for an outcome.

The police and searchers believe Shannon drove up into the heart of the forest on Friday 1 June in his green campervan to find solitude, meditate, play music, free climb and to fulfil his spiritual and adventurous ambitions. On the morning of Saturday 2 June, he left his campervan and basically vanished into the forest he called his “special place.” The searchers were hampered by the fact he had left no clues about his intentions, his van was not located until 12 June, the search area had been saturated with two weather events, the nearby forest was overcut pine forest full of decaying vegetation, pampas grass, soft water courses, pigs, steep bluffs, pinnacles, slippery moving terrain and thick native bush and spanned a radius of 8km from the location of Shannon’s van.  

Pig hunters, forestry workers, friends and residents provided the police and search management with information on the area being searched. Searchers were tasked to focus on a radius area 300m from his last known location and around Motutere (Castle Rock). The specialist rope and climbing teams searched the crevices, faces and bush within Motutere while searchers crawled through the undergrowth below.

With no leads or clues as to Shannon’s whereabouts, the search was suspended on Sunday 17 June while the police reviewed search documentation and identify any areas that required further searching. On Thursday last week (21 June), the police advised KSAR that they wished to recommence the search and a KSAR team focused on an area below the western wall of Castle Rock while the police focused on areas to the east.

On Saturday last week (23 June) a search team consisting largely of KSAR members and volunteers from Thames and Waihi were tasked to search an area east of a large pinnacle about 200m from Castle Rock. The team identified the area as having special significance due a free flowing waterfall, moss covered boulders and the steep pinnacle rising 50m out of the mature native bush. The team felt it was an area that Shannon would also find special and it may have attracted his attention. Members of the team climbed 7m - 8m up a steep bush-covered rocky face of the pinnacle and located a deep crevasse covered with flax and grasses. On a closer search they located Shannon’s body.

Last Sunday, a KSAR team along with a searcher from Waihi SAR, the police and a ropes team returned to the pinnacle about 300m from a forestry road and set about the task of extracting Shannon. Once he was secured to the stretcher, Shannon was carried up to the forestry road. Along the 300m trek up to the road the searchers sang a loud heart-pounding haka that echoed off Castle Rock and into the mist covered forest before delivering Shannan back to his whanau. A karanga was sung as we placed him onto a bed of ferns into a shelter.

The next few hours above the forest and looking out over Motutere was time for Karakia and Waiata before Shannan went on his journey back to Christchurch. It was heart-filling to see emotions and tears flowing from many of the SAR volunteers, the police and members of the Waikato Fire Rescue ropes team. In so many ways we were all touched by Shannan Earle Makowharemahihi and so proud that we were able to get him back to his whanau.

Shannon’s whanau appreciated the support and assistance from the many SAR volunteers, the police and all the others who persevered in the search for Shannon and did not give up hope. 

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