Three men on a lunchtime surf off the coast of Dunedin are
being heralded as heroes after a day trip to the beach went
horribly wrong for a large group of Dunedin schoolgirls.
Thirty of 102 year 9 and 13 Columba College pupils at the
beach on a day trip with the school were caught in a rip
while swimming off Canoe Beach near Purakaunui, north of
Dunedin, at 2pm yesterday.
The stronger of the girls got themselves out of trouble, but
the rest had to be rescued by the three surfers, who made
four trips to save about 16 girls.
Another two girls were saved by surf life-savers, who
responded to the emergency call from where they were
practising at nearby Warrington for the South Island IRB
Championships, being held today.
By the time all of the girls were out of the water, emergency
services had arrived at the relatively remote beach.
St John operations team manager Doug Third said ambulance
officers treated 12 of the girls for water inhalation and
Four were flown to Dunedin Hospital in the Otago Regional
Rescue Helicopter and another three later needed treatment at
A hospital spokeswoman last night said six of the girls
assessed in the emergency department had been discharged, but
one remained for further observation.
Mr Third, who attended the incident, said the scene at the
beach was chaotic.''
Everyone was upset and it was difficult to tell who were
patients and who weren't.''
Members of group were visibly upset and reluctant to speak to
the Otago Daily Times, but as the rescue helicopter departed
teacher Joanne Weggery stopped to thank the three surfers,
Tom Leckie, from Port Chalmers, Dillon Ryan, of Dunedin, and
Tony Denley, of Osborne.''
Everything is for a reason. Bless you. Thank you so much.''
Police, firefighters and ambulance staff also praised the
actions of the surfers, who they said probably prevented a
Port Chalmers firefighter Ant O'Neill, who was with the first
fire crew to arrive at the beach, said the girls were very
lucky the surfers were there.''
Those guys were definitely the heroes of the hour. They
deserve some recognition.''
Mr Third said the girls were also ''blinkin' lucky'' the surf
life-savers were in the area.
And it really was a matter of luck, Mr Leckie said.
The three men were working on a building site in the area and
had decided on Canoe Beach only after a debate about which of
the many breaks they would surf in their lunch break.
When they arrived there were pupils ''swimming in the
shallows'' and the surfing was good, but after catching their
fifth wave the surfers heard yelling.
About 100m from shore, there were 30 pupils out in deep
water, sucked out by a ''severe'' rip.
The pupils were yelling and waving their arms and appeared to
They were going around and around and around and around,'' Mr
The men paddled out and rescued four girls at a time, pulling
them from the deep water and taking them to a large inflated
tyre tube that was floating further towards the shore.
The men made four trips to the girls and each time the tube
was full the men swam the tube to shore as the exhausted
girls hung on.
About six of the pupils caught in the rip were strong
swimmers and aided the others until the men returned. The
beach was deceptive because it had a gradual incline and then
rapidly dropped off to deep water, Mr Leckie said.
''They were lucky. Without help, there would have been a few
''Definitely,'' Mr Denley said.
As the men left the beach to return to work from their
dramatic lunch break, the pupils returned to school in the
three buses that had brought them. Many were covered in
blankets, and some struggled to walk.
One of the pupils told the ODT it was supposed to be a day to
get to know one another, and, in a way, it had brought them
She would always remember a pupil throwing up blood on the
beach and the bravery of the surfers, she said.
''Thank you. You saved so many girls' lives. We will be