From confronting a gunman to a daring helicopter rescue in white-out conditions to a rescue from a burning car, seven New Zealanders have been recognised for their bravery.
The seven were presented with the Royal Humane Society medals, for acts of bravery where rescuers put their own lives at risk to help assist others whose lives are in peril.
Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro presented the medals at Government House in Wellington on Wednesday afternoon.
She said it was a privilege to present the medals to those who had shown "selfless courage" and whose actions had helped prevent tragedy.
Confronting a gunman
Naomi Gedye was one of six people taken hostage by an “angry, agitated” man armed with a firearm.
She was enjoying a family holiday at the Vinegar Hill Camping Ground on the banks of the Rangitīkei River, north of Feilding, in late December 2017 when she saw a man driving erratically and following a woman and her son.
Gedye attempted to stop and calm him down but he pointed a firearm at her. She managed to persuade the man to remove the magazine from the firearm.
When he put it on the passenger seat, she took the opportunity to pick it up. She threw it away but he found the magazine and went back to his car. He then drove at her, stopping just short of hitting her.
She was later one of six people he took hostage in a camper van. The man was persuaded to release four of the hostages but Gedye and the driver had to leap from the moving vehicle to escape.
The gunman was later arrested by police.
Given the remote nature of the campground she knew help would take time to get there, Gedye said. Her main thought during the incident was to “keep him away” from her family.
“I’d do anything to make sure my family is safe,” she said. “It’s just who I am as a person.”
Gedye was commended for being “particularly courageous in confronting an armed man, engaging in conversation with him and trying to dispose of the firearm’s magazine”.
“Her initiative and bravery during the hostage situation resulted in the safe release of four hostages, the escape of the driver and herself, and the arrest of the gunman,” her commendation read.
First on the scene
If it weren’t for the bravery of former firefighter Paul Gerritsen, a critically injured woman involved in a fiery Hamilton crash might not be alive.
Gerritsen was one of the first to arrive on the scene just moments after a car travelling along Kahikitea Dr in Hamilton with three people, hit a large traffic signage pole and caught fire the morning of April 22, 2020.
He dragged the driver, who was lying unconscious near the driver’s door, away from the vehicle.
As fire began to take hold of the inside of the car, he used brute strength to extract a woman who was trapped inside, and who had suffered severe, critical injuries.
All three passengers were taken to hospital in a critical condition after emergency services arrived.
However, Gerritsen says he was just the first to arrive and anyone else would have likely done the same.
Having spent 10 years as a firefighter, he said instinct and his training kicked in during the response and he had attended many such crashes. When he saw the flames, he didn’t hesitate.
While grateful for the award, he said he felt a bit like “an imposter” as he had just been doing his job. He planned on celebrating with a nice dinner with his wife.
“In coming to their aid, Paul Gerritsen put his own life in great danger. Without his actions, it is likely that the female passenger would have died, and the driver may too have lost his life,” his commendation read.
Alpine rescue in white-out conditions
In deteriorating, white-out conditions on Mt Rolleston, two rescuers used their thermos of coffee to help guide helicopter pilots to winch them to safety.
Anna Brooke and Michael Smith of Alpine Rescue Canterbury , were part of the team of five sent to help after two climbers became stranded on one of the highest peaks in Arthur’s Pass National Park, in October last year without overnight gear.
Helicopter pilots Henry Deans, Angus Taylor and Jeffrey Davies were also recognised for their part in the rescue with bronze medals
The helicopter was stripped back to bare essentials for flying in the alpine environment where freezing levels on the mountain were rising and several loose wet avalanches were observed.
Wind gusts, the unknown stability and angle of mountainside near a large bluff, made winching conditions in the white-out conditions all the more challenging with a possibility that the helicopter would not be able to return.
After locating the climbers sheltering in an improvised small snow-shelter on the summit, Brooke and Smith guided them to a lower spot where they could wait for the helicopter.
The climbers winched to safety, descending cloud made picking up the Brooke and Smith almost impossible until a lucky break in the clouds.
Spreading coffee over the fresh snow, they were able to give the pilots reference definition on the slope enabling them to be pulled onboard.
While flying in, to help prepare, Brooke thought of the climbers who were “out there in the cold and wet on top of a mountain”. They had “limited options”.
Brooke was grateful for the recognition. “It’s nice to know it matters to people.”
Smith said, as members of the climbing community, it was just something they did.
They soon found themselves in a similar position to the climbers – stuck on a mountain in poor conditions waiting for a ride. “We realised we were in the same position, only we were it.”
Davies said it was one of the “more challenging” winch operations of his career.
“This mountain rescue was a team effort in a precarious situation for everyone involved,” the commendation said.
“The team were pushed to the limits, but acted within appropriate safety parameters in order to save the lives of two inadequately equipped trampers.”