Constable Jayne Dowling is a qualified lifeguard, New
Zealand bodybuilding champ and one-time England rugby
player. Photo: NZ Herald
Less than a week after injuring her shoulder taking down
a man with a sawn-off shotgun, an off-duty policewoman dived
into a river to save a girl from drowning.
Whangamata constable Jayne Dowling was still nursing a
strained rotator cuff when she visited Cambridge on Sunday
for some sightseeing with her partner.
Ms Dowling, a 39-year-old recruited from Britain, was
wandering along the Waikato River taking photos when she
noticed some young people in the water and felt something was
"We could see three girls across the river on rocks. I don't
know how they got across there. The undercurrent was strong
and the river was swirling.
"We were just about to leave and I saw the girls get in the
water. Something just made me wait and watch."
Quickly, it became clear the girls were in trouble.
Ms Dowling - a former British age-group swimmer, one-time
England rugby player and New Zealand bodybuilding champ -
jumped into action.
"One of the girls just started coughing and spitting. I just
thought, 'Something is going to go wrong here.' Then they all
started screaming, 'Help us, help us,' and I just ran for
Sprinting about 50m down a bank to reach the water, Ms
Dowling - also a qualified lifeguard - ditched her shoes and
dived in wearing her dress.
Two of the girls had reached the near shore, but swam back
out to help their friend. They were probably only 5-10m from
shore, Ms Dowling said, but were unable to make it back.
"It was almost like an eddy, the water was just swirling
around. I could see them trying to swim but it was just
pulling them back to the middle of the river. The two girls
were trying to hold their friend up. She was swallowing water
Ms Dowling and another woman swam out to the trio. The
constable told the two girls who could swim to head ashore;
the other woman helped them.
Another woman on the riverbank called 111 and ran to get
lifejackets from a nearby jetboat operator, while Ms Dowling
put her swimming experience to work, dragging the struggling
13-year-old through the water.
"My energy was draining big-time. The lady was standing on
the shore holding a lifejacket and I said, 'Throw me that.'
That gave us just that little bit of buoyancy to get us back
The teenager was treated by paramedics at the scene, then
taken to Waikato Hospital.
Ms Downing's boss in Whangamata, Sergeant Vince Ranger, felt
her heroic action was typical of her.
"The Waikato River in places can be quite treacherous ... To
put yourself in a position where you're swimming out to save
people, that's quite an exceptional thing to do.
"There's no doubt about it, her actions have made an impact
on the lives of those girls and their families. Had she not
responded in that way, we might well have been dealing with a
The offender Ms Dowling subdued the previous Monday was
arrested after crashing a stolen car in Waihi. He had a
sawn-off shotgun with him.