A police officer is being hailed a hero after rescuing two 11-year-old boys and a man from a rip in Ohope, Bay of Plenty.
Constable Dean Oswald - who has been involved in surf lifesaving since childhood - stripped to his underwear and plunged into Ohiwa Harbour last night to reach the boys, who had got caught in a rip, and the man who had got into trouble while trying to save them.
Mr Oswald praised another man and a 19-year-old who arrived at the beach with lifejackets and waded out behind him to help with the rescue. They reached one of the boys and Mr Oswald reached the other. The pair then helped the boys to shore while Mr Oswald swam further out to reach the man.
"One of the boys said 'My uncle, my uncle' and I saw him further out, lying face-up with waves breaking over him. He was conscious but I'd say pretty close to going under," Mr Oswald said.
"It took about 15 minutes to pull him back to shore - every time a wave came I said to him 'close your eyes, close your mouth, we're going under'."
Once ashore the three were picked up by helicopter and taken to Whakatane Hospital. One boy was kept in overnight but is understood to be recovering.
Mr Oswald said the children had gone for an evening swim.
"[It] shows how quickly things can turn around. It was a fantastic result but I see this as a wake-up call - we get way too many drownings every year."
He said the sea was rough with waves more than a metre high.
It is estimated the boys and the uncle were in the sea for about 40 minutes.
Mr Oswald was attending a public policing event at Ohope Fire Station when the call came in about 7.50pm.
Amid initial uncertainty about the exact location of the swimmers, Mr Oswald dispatched his colleague Constable Adam Keno in a car to the Ohiwa side of the harbour while he set off along Ohope Beach on a quad bike.
Near Ohope golf course he was flagged down by a frantic woman and a group of children. Climbing up onto the quad bike, he saw one of the boys in the water had raised an arm for help.
"I've got to give credit to those two 11-year-olds - to have been in the water for that long and to have maintained their strength and ability to keep their heads above the water was quite amazing," he said.
"The two who helped the rescue did brilliantly - turning up with lifejackets was great."
Eastern Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Sandra Venables praised Mr Oswald for his actions and Mr Keno for the support he provided.
"These people were very lucky that officers with detailed local knowledge were in the right place at the right time. With his surf lifesaving skills, I can't think of another officer better able to deal with such a situation than Dean."
- By The Daily Post