Don Bogie – NZ’s "absolute leader" of mountain search and rescue
Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication.
Introduction“My enduring memory of Don Bogie is his face as he crawled into ‘Middle Peak Hotel’ on the morning of 29 November 1982,” Mark Inglis recollects.
Date: 23 April 2010
“My enduring memory of Don Bogie is his face as he crawled into ‘Middle Peak Hotel’ on the morning of 29 November 1982,” Mark Inglis recollects, commenting that a rescuer’s face certainly takes on a new kind of beauty when viewed through the eyes of the rescued!
Along with fellow mountaineer Phil Doole, Mark had been trapped on the summit ridge of Aoraki/Mount Cook for a staggering 14 days when Don’s “beautiful face” appeared. Theirs are just two of, potentially, hundreds of lives saved thanks to the work of DOC’s very own Don Bogie, currently Technical Support Manager for Department of Conservation, Canterbury.
Don Bogie stands in front of Aoraki
Don’s huge involvement in search and rescue (SAR) practices in New Zealand will be recognised on 21 April. He will receive a New Zealand Search and Rescue Award in a ceremony at the Parliament Buildings in Wellington.
The award acknowledges his long-service contribution to search and rescue in New Zealand, in particular his services to the DOC Alpine Rescue Team based at Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Don started out climbing in Dunedin in the 70s while a student at Otago University. He describes getting into SAR through joining the Otago Face Rescue Team as a way of providing “mutual self help” to other climbers.
Employed as a permanent mountaineer at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in 1979, Don had a huge influence on the development of rescue practices at Aoraki during the 80s. He was initially supported by strong climbing rangers, especially Lisle Irwin and helicopter pilot Ron Small with his Squirrel HWW, known as ‘Whisky Whisky’.
Don was involved in the development of the fixed strop for fast, efficient and safe rescue of climbers in precarious locations. He also played a part in the introduction to New Zealand of the Baumann Bag – a fold-up, lightweight, nylon stretcher invented by the Canadian Park Service – ideal to use in conjunction with the fixed strop.
This development was absolutely integral to the rescue of Mark Inglis and Phil Doole in 1982 from Aoraki’s ‘Middle Peak Hotel’. In this rescue Ron Small flew ‘Whisky Whisky’ and Don was on the end of the strop.
Don Bogie air-lifting Phil Doole to safety
Mark and Phil’s two weeks spent on the mountain resulted in the eventual loss of their lower legs from frostbite, but as Mark pointed out:
“The reality is that I’m around these days thanks to Don and the SAR team; both through their actions that day and through the knowledge they imparted to me during my time as a trainee ranger in Aoraki.”
Becoming a trainee ranger in Aoraki in 1979, Mark was thrilled to train under Don whom he describes as “the absolute leader of mountain search and rescue in New Zealand”.
In 1984 Don wrote ‘Alpine Rescue Techniques, Mount Cook National Park’ published by the Department of Lands and Survey. Although based around the techniques used at Aoraki, this publication soon became the bible for all involved in high-mountain rescue throughout New Zealand.
In 1992 Don worked on a second edition of this book and contributed to the Grant Prattley-authored third edition published in 2008.
Don left Aoraki in 1987 to work in Tongariro National Park between 1987 and 1995. While there he helped set up RARO (Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation) at Mt Ruapehu. Over the years he has been on NZ LandSAR National Committee, the NZ LandSAR Technical Rescue Working Group and DOC’s representative on the NZ LandSAR Council.
Don’s large contribution to SAR may owe a great deal to his meticulous approach. Dedicated mountaineer, Hugh Logan described Don as “extremely thorough; thinking things through to the nth degree,” as well as being “very reliable and dependable in the mountains, highly experienced in issues relating to New Zealand’s high country and deeply analytical in his approach”
This description is certainly backed up by DOC Aoraki ranger Ray Bellringer who has worked with Don from the outset.
“For those of us involved in rescue work during this time (early 1980s) Don, as senior team leader, set incredibly high standards and was very analytical in his approach. He was notorious for recording absolutely every detail in a small notebook – especially around performance of individual team members. This could be very scary for those involved,” Ray mentions wryly.
DOC Aoraki/Mt Cook were certainly involved in putting Don forward for the NZSAR award along with the department’s National Office. One man behind the nomination is DOC officer Mike Davies who works with Don on visitor-risk management and safety issues. He is keen to point out just how lucky the department is to have access to such a valuable resource.
“Don has always been very accessible with his time and happy to provide information which is sound and well-reasoned. We are very fortunate to be able to draw on his extensive technical knowledge which has been accumulated, not just from years of working in the area, but from his own personal interest,” Mike acknowledges.
“I believe this award is very fitting to recognise Don's huge commitment to SAR and risk management.”
These days Don provides technical support on alpine rescue to the DOC Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team, teaches on the SARINZ avalanche rescue and the MSC stage 1 and 2 Avalanche Qualification courses, develops teaching resources for avalanche rescue and is a member of the Christchurch Alpine Cliff Rescue Team. On occasions he is called in as an expert witness for the police at the coroner’s court on alpine fatalities.
When asked what notable changes there have been to SAR over the years Don recognises the impact of advancements in communications.
“When I started doing alpine rescues there were no locator beacons, cell phones or sat phones or even any private radios. Emergency calls were usually made when someone was overdue, so most people were either dead or stable when we got to them. These days callouts often happen within minutes of the accidents and rescuers arrive while people are in the process of dying so rescuers now often have more complex medical scenarios to deal with.”
Don still sees the rescue of Inglis and Doole as one of his most memorable SAR cases. This was actually Don’s second rescue of Phil Doole – the first ensured Don had a speedy initiation into the world of SAR at Aoraki.
Phil had been climbing Aoraki/Mount Cook when he witnessed an accident that killed another climber. While going for help for that climber’s partner, Phil fell into a crevasse and fractured his femur. Don, who had joined the team the day before, found himself flying into the Linda Glacier and assisting with the crevasse rescue.
Another rescue that vividly remains with him was the army tragedy on Mount Ruapehu in 1990 where he helped bring survivors off the mountain.
Despite his involvement in some of the worst scenarios for mountaineering, Don does not seem deterred by the dangers involved. When asked what advice he had for people going out to these extreme locations, his response was “have fun, enjoy the risks but know what risks you are taking."
I would like to thank Don Bogie, Ray Bellringer, Mark Inglis, Mike Davies and Hugh Logan for their contributions to this article.
By Lizzie Sutcliffe