Orewa cliffhanger for man and his dog

Doug Wheeler would not move from the cliff face until he knew his dog, Commie, was safe.

What began as a regular walk from Hatfields Beach to Orewa for Doug Wheeler and his dogs turned into a nail-biting cliff rescue involving emergency services.

Doug, 36, was on his way back up the hill from Orewa, on Sunday, May 12, when one of his dogs, Mastiff-cross Commie, broke free from her lead.

Doug’s mother, Karen, says Commie loves bush walks which is why the dog immediately headed for scrub near the Orewa lookout. The bush is on the cliff edge and a steep drop awaited the dog, her fall eventually arrested by a narrow ledge.

Doug called his parents, who headed for the cliff with their truck and winch.

“It was a bit of a heart stopping moment when we got there, and heard Doug call out ‘I’m down here’ from way down the cliff face,” Karen says.

Having followed Commie down, Doug was now trapped with her on the ledge about halfway down the 25-metre cliff, clinging to a tree root.

“He was determined to prevent Commie falling any further,” Karen says.

Unable to rescue the pair themselves, Karen and husband Robert called the fire service.

Four units responded – two from Silverdale, one from Manly and operational support as well as police, the St John ambulance and even a vet. A Level 3 Line Rescue team was on standby to come from Auckland, but was not needed.

By now a crowd had gathered on Orewa Beach to watch the dramatic rescue.

Officer in charge for Fire and Emergency was chief fire officer Don McErlich of Silverdale Fire Brigade.
Don says fire fighters train for rope rescues but don’t get to do them very often on the Hibiscus Coast.
The crew abseiled down to Doug and Commie to ensure they were secure. Doug was uninjured, apart from grazes on his face.

“Normally we would bring people down a cliff face, but there was heavy rain and the cliff was steep and slippery so it was easier to bring them both up,” Don says.

The 30kg dog was brought to safety first. “Doug would not go up until the dog was safe – that will resonate with a lot of dog owners,” Don says.

Constable Roger Dustow assisted in the rescue. He says the Fire and Emergency lines team did an amazing job. “It was a great example of everyone working together to help save the man and his dog,” he says. “He was extremely lucky to be alive, it was a big drop.”

Karen says the family is immensely grateful to the emergency crews, particularly the fire service.

As well as taking beer and baking into the Silverdale fire station the following day, Karen says Doug went back to the cliff, climbing up this time, to find his phone. He also found a fire fighter’s walkie-talkie and was able to return it.


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