WARNING. Graphic Content
It's a given, in 27 years serving ones country you are bound to be called upon to undertake onerous tasks. In those 27 years spanning 1975 to 2002 I served mainly in the Survey Navy, working all around the country, off shore islands, Pacific Islands, and Sub Antarctic Islands. In that time the Navy and/or Police have been in many search and rescues (SAR's for short) and in varying climes. Essentially when south of a line from Cape Egmont across to East Cape the water is so cold any person in the sea has a shorter life expectancy through Hypothermia. Many cases south of those lines are non recoverable as bodies quickly lose buoyancy and sink to the sea floor.
To be fair too, possibly there is no chance of recovery due to sea creatures in the depths. I personally have been involved in many SAR's - sunken boats, crashed planes, missing divers and vehicles driving off wharves. I won't go into all episodes but will dwell briefly on 4 that come to mind.
1. My First Floater (1977)
So what made this corpse different to the telephone box corpse? Essentially the sea lice in this instance. All orifices (natural and manufactured) were teaming with them.
2. Diver Down (1984)
Turns out he'd been snagged on a mooring chain for 3 weeks before being found.
3. Aid to Police - searching the Marlborough Sounds
Although we never provided what the Police needed we all felt spiritually attached to finding any bodies so families had closure. In that that didn't happen still weighs heavily particularly on mine. I think too we all have to remember in these cases the ocean is a huge blanket that hides things very well, and we serve to do our best knowing it won't always be.
4. Where success is tempered with profound sadness. (1998)
One of my most rewarding events in my Navy Career was also tempered with the most soul destroying happening.
I was serving in the Mine Warfare until in HMNZS Philomel. We'd all heard about the Cessna crashing into the sea outside Bluff and were expecting to be mobilised to do a search using HMNZS Moa's MCM equipment and the lads from HMNZS Toroa. We sailed practically on our arrival in Dunedin and overnighted to Bluff in calm seas. On arrival we were given the search area. I requested the witness accounts and found maybe the search area was a little outside the given zone. However we sailed on a choppy col[d day (read sleet at sea level) with a Police presence and also TV One News crew (both spent more time feeding the fish).
Anyway, we did a cursory search over the designated area without joy, so I approached my Charlie Oscar and we agreed to search where I though the plane might be. Unhappily nothing, so we returned to Bluff. Once alongside the Toroa boys on the PC's thought they had found something on the last line for the day. Further assessment showed a positive result and next morning we dropped straight onto it and marked it with a buoy for civvy divers and recovery barge to find it. The plane was recovered.
That was a joy to be successful. What sent me near tears was the father of one of the deceased, his son. He saved his daughter by holding onto her, he was distraught he couldn't hold him as well. We were in the MCM Ops Room reviewing data and he entered. His first words - "can that thing find my son?" Very hard to tell him no, very hard.
So in essence, moments of my career were tinged with the special, different, scary, and sad. Ka kite ano.