22 Oct 2014

Officer honoured after saving man

5:42 pm on 22 October 2014

An officer who rescued a drowning man after a three-car collision on a Tauranga bridge last year has received the Police Association's Bravery Award.

Senior Constable Deane O'Connor rescued Ashley Donkersley from the harbour and today his actions were praised by Prime Minister John Key as heroic.

Prime Minister John Key, left, Senior Constable Deane O'Connor and Ashley Donkersley.

Prime Minister John Key, left, Senior Constable Deane O'Connor and Ashley Donkersley. Photo: RNZ / Michael Allan

In August last year, three vehicles collided and a van driven by Gregory Mark Woledge was pushed off the Maungatapu bridge into the water.

Mr Woledge, 24, from Tauranga died, while a man and woman in their 30s and a man in his 40s in the two other vehicles suffered moderate injuries.

Senior Constable Deanne O'Connor arrived at the scene and was told there was a 23-year-old man who managed to get out of the van and was in the water.

"I stripped off. I wasn't going to jump in there in my vest and clothes because I know what it's like swimming in those clothes - I wouldn't survive," Mr O'Connor said.

"And then I had to think about how deep the water was. So I jumped and landed on my back and don't remember anything until I got to him."

Ashley Donkersley was about 75 metres off shore and unconscious when the officer reached him. After about 10 minutes, Mr Donkersley came round and Mr O'Connor started to make his way to the shore with the man on his back.

Mr O'Connor said he worked hard to keep the man calm. "I was cracking jokes and telling him my wife was going to kill me if I don't make it. We talked about my family, his family. I wanted to keep his spirits up and I didn't want him to know how petrified I really was."

After more than 30 minutes, the exhausted men made it to shore, both suffering from hypothermia.

Ashley Donkersley was with Mr Deane when he accepted the award at the Police Association's Annual Conference in Wellington and remembers how the officer kept him calm.

"He just kept me so relaxed in there. We knew we were in danger after a while, but he was really good at how he handled the situation."

Mr Donkersley said they remain close. "He's awesome - he just deserves as much as recognition as possible. We've been for a few beers, I've been to his house - he's just a real nice guy."

Prime Minister John Key presented the award to the senior constable and praised his actions.

"Deane put aside any regard for his own safety when he leapt into the ice cold waters in search of Ashley. Without Deane's heroic actions Ashley would not be with us today."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the officer's actions displayed the highest ideals of policing.

It is not the first time Mr O'Connor has been praised for his heroism. In 1997, he saved a woman's life after freeing her from a car following a serious crash. However, Mr O'Connor said he had no intention of making a habit of coming to the rescue.

"It's knowing your limitations. I had a friend went into a house fire a few months back and I thought I don't think I could do that. But then he turned around ... and says I couldn't go for a swim like you did. So I guess we all have moments."

Mr O'Connor said he is looking forward to heading home to Tauranga for a glass of wine.

The crash site on Maungatapu Bridge.

The crash site at the Maungatapu bridge last year. Photo: RNZ

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