26 Jul 2023

School boy wins bravery award for rescuing his brother

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 26 July 2023

An Otago schoolboy has become the youngest-ever recipient of a prestigious bravery award after rescuing his brother in monster waves and freezing conditions at Chrystalls Beach at Milton, south of Dunedin. 

The Royal Life Saving Society gives the Mountbatten Medal to just one member of the Commonwealth a year for the most gallant rescue or attempted rescue. 

In August last year, Kalya Kandegoda Gamage and his younger brother Kithme were with their mum, paddling at the water's edge when a wave swept 11-year-old Kithmi off his feet and out to sea. 

Kalya Kandegoda Gamage.

Kalya Kandegoda Gamage shows off his medal. Photo: RNZ

Kalya, who was 13 at the time, made the snap decision to swim about 60 metres out to him.

"I told my mother, 'Okay, I'm going to get my brother but I might not be back, Kalya told Checkpoint on Wednesday. 

"I took off my jacket and my shoes then I jumped and it was quite easy… because the waves were going right into him.

"He tried to grab me, then I pushed him, then I told him to grab my shoulders and my shirt. So we went to the shore safely."

Kalya was given the award at a special assembly at Tokomairiro High School.

"We're very proud indeed," school principal Declan Sheridan said. "We've got school values and he meets all of them in spades. He's just the most wonderful student. He's very modest as well… The word hero comes to the tongue really easily. He's worthy of that title. He's a wonderful young man."

Kalya said he did it because if he did not, his brother - going the wrong way in his struggle against the waves - would have died. 

"He said 'thank you' because he was breathing. He didn't talk much."

Sheridan said the family had unknowingly set up at a "notoriously dangerous stretch of water". 

"Kithmi and Kalya were new to the country. They'd only been here a month, so they were unfamiliar with the terrain and the conditions, so it caught them off guard."

Kalya Kandegoda Gamage.

Kalya Kandegoda Gamage receives the Mountbatten Medal. Photo: Supplied

Kalya was not aware he was going to get the prestigious Mountbatten Medal before the assembly. 

"He knew something was happening because he was sat in the front row," said Sheridan. "And then all of a sudden he got this, this fantastic medal, and there were 40 invited guests there as well.

"So, yeah, everybody's really proud, the whole school." 

Most of all, Kalya's mother. 

"She's proud of me. She was so happy because she thought Kithmi might not be back - so I just bring him back, so she was, she was so happy."