23 Sep 2018

Surf lifesavers prove their worth in 'rescue of the year'

8:50 am on 23 September 2018

Lifeguards had to overcome extreme conditions to save a duo in a mission regarded as the "rescue of the year", a surf lifesaver says.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand, and software company Emsisoft, will use GPS data and drones to map rip currents and their behaviours.

A Surf Life Saving Club has been recognised for its efforts in a dangerous and difficult rescue mission. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The Wanganui Surf Life Saving Club received the accolade at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand's Awards of Excellence in Auckland last night for the rescue of the man and his teenage daughter who had become trapped against rocks after getting caught in a rip.

Club member Matt Newell said life guards got the callout at about midday on 18 February.

"When we first got there we were told there were two missing people at Kai Iwi Beach. We didn't know what to expect when we turned up but we got a boat on the water pretty quickly," Mr Newell said.

"We found the two people trapped on the rocks quite quickly, but because of the conditions - it was high tide on a king tide, it was storm surf and the seas were just rough as - we had a lot to overcome to actually execute the rescue."

IRB driver Laura O'Keefe attempted to get in close to the swimmers and dropped Alex Forlong into the water to see if she could retrieve them, but she had to withdraw after injuring her arm on rocks, forcing a rethink.

A rescue helicopter was on standby to winch the swimmers to safety and a Fire Service crew were prepared to abseil down to them, but both options were ruled out as too dangerous in the conditions.

Instead a second IRB was dispatched from Castlecliff to help in the rescue.

Mr Newell said they faced a difficult decision of whether to wait for low tide or try and get the swimmers straight away.

"We wanted to get them out as soon as possible because the waves were pretty rough and she was cold and had injured her ankle," he said.

"She was becoming hypothermic so, you know, we could've waited five hours for the tides to change, but we had the risk of her getting even worse so we had to get her out of there as quickly as possible."

Taking advantage of longer lulls between the waves, the rescuers were able to get one IRB in behind a protective island and life guard, Clarissa Nowak, got onto the rocks and was able to swim the girl back to the boat with the aid of a rescue tube. She was then transferred to a waiting ambulance with her family members.

Wanganui SLSC members who won an award for their efforts in 'rescue of the year'.

Wanganui SLSC members who won an award for their efforts in 'rescue of the year'. Photo: Supplied

The second IRB used a similar technique to extract her father.

Mr Newell, a 21-year-old builder, said the operation, which involved nine lifeguards as well as more than a dozen emergency services required a high level of coordination.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton said he was amazed by the lifeguards who made such an invaluable contribution to communities around the country.

Mr Dalton said with cliff and helicopter rescue ruled out, the Whanganui club had proven the worth of having surf lifesavers on the ground around regional New Zealand.

"That's the place where surf life-saving is meant to be. That's our role in the world, in that inshore difficult situation.

"Helicopters are obviously brilliant for certain types of rescue and Coast Guard do a really brilliant job in the more out to sea situations, but in surf and around beaches and rocks that is our bread and butter."

SLSNZ Awards of Excellence - Winners

BP Rescue of the Year: Wanganui Surf Life Saving Club

TSB Official of the Year: Debbie Hutchings, Waikanae SLSC

TSB Coach of the Year: Matt Cairns, Papamoa SLSC

TSB International Sport Performance of the Year: Danielle McKenzie, Mairangi Bay SLSC

DHL Instructor of the Year: Max Jones, Whangamata SLSC

DHL Volunteer of the Year: Adam Fraser, Fitzroy SLSC

London Trophy: Kotuku SLSC

Gudsell Trophy: Mairangi Bay SLSC

New Zealand Lotteries Grant Board Lifeguard of the Year: Todd Velvin, Fitzroy SLSC

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