Harbour trip ends in hypothermia

A holiday wildlife tour ended in hypothermia for four young visiting women students kayaking near Taiaroa Head yesterday.

The Auckland university students, all aged in their early 20s, were on an Eden Wildlife Cruises sea kayaking tour when one of the kayaks capsized, tipping two of the women into the Otago Harbour channel about 3pm.

They spent up to 20 minutes in the water, which was about 6degC at the time.

The four women - two Afghanis, one Pakistani and one Palestinian - were taken in two ambulances to Dunedin Hospital. All four were wearing life jackets.

The incident happened about an hour into the outgoing tide, and the northerly wind of about 5 knots meant there was 1.5m of ''slop'', Senior Constable Lox Kellas, of Portobello, said.

One woman hit her head when the kayak capsized and had possible concussion, he said.

''She looked like she was almost gone, and all of them were hypothermic.''

The other two tourists, in a separate kayak, were directed on to Aramoana Spit by tour guide Gordon Douglas, who was in a solo kayak and used a marine radio to call for help.

They too became wet and cold when alighting from the kayaks.

The crew of a fishing vessel responded to the radio call and plucked the two women who had capsized out of the channel.

They had been clinging to the upturned kayak and were freezing.

''They weren't wearing appropriate clothing for a kayak trip. One of them said she had done some kayaking before on a school trip,'' Snr Const Kellas said.

Mr Douglas gave the women a safety briefing as part of the tour, and said they kayaked about 4km without trouble before he turned them back towards Wellers Rock.

''We were getting wind over tide then, so we turned back and that's when the two women had trouble turning.

"I went to help them, but a wave came and tipped them,'' Mr Douglas said.

It was the first time a double kayak had capsized on his tour, he said.

Snr Const Kellas said he would speak to Mr Douglas and examine the kayak to determine what went wrong, and whether it was an equipment failure, before reporting the incident to Maritime New Zealand.

They were all New Zealand citizens, studying at Auckland University and the Auckland University of Technology, and had arrived in Dunedin four days ago, Snr Const Kellas said.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

 

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