22 Jun 2016

Hat-trick of rescues for Air Force team

9:19 am on 22 June 2016

Flight Lieutenant Cam Hitchings earned himself the nickname 'Hat-Trick Hitchings' after being involved in three successful search and rescue operations in the Pacific over a 10-day period.

Cam Hitchings

Cam 'Hat Track' Hitchings Photo: NZDF

The first, in mid-May, involved three fishermen missing off Kiribati in a boat that was "not the most seaworthy" vessel.

It took seven hours for the RNZAF Orion plane to reach the site, and after three hours searching they had just 10 minutes left before they would need to leave to refuel.

"It's getting right near the end and you're like 'oh we haven't found them'," says Flight Lieutenant Cam Hitchings.

"And then you find them - and it's awesome because you get this big high just before you finish and go in to land."

After dropping food and a radio, and passing the location to a rescue vessel, the Air Force team left.

The second rescue was again of Kiribati fishermen, missing in a dingy.

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Three boats were assisted in the Pacific over a ten day period. Photo: NZDF

This time the search was quicker and the men were found within half an hour of the Orion arriving in the search zone.

"Again we dropped them a MADD (Minimum Aid Delivery Device) pack with food, radio and water, found a vessel to come pick them up, and then we remained overhead for a couple of hours."

The third search was for an overdue yacht which had left New Zealand bound for Fiji. The team found the yacht and ascertained it had been delayed by a lack of wind - but was safe.

Flight Lieutenant Hitchings says he finds search and rescue work challenging, but enjoyable.

The P3 Orions have a camera with a high quality zoom on the front and the footage is projected on screens throughout the plane.

"As you get closer you see it and go 'yes it's them' and you can see them waving and everyone on the aircraft is pretty happy at that stage."

He said it was unusual to be on so many missions in such a short time.