Otago lifeguards take triple

Inflatable rescue boat involved in a 2015 rescue at Bird Island, Tomahawk. FILE PHOTO: CHRISTINE...
Inflatable rescue boat involved in a 2015 rescue at Bird Island, Tomahawk. FILE PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
Otago surf rescue teams have taken the top three places in Surf Life Saving NZ's monthly awards, for rescues occurring in March this year.

The SLSNZ Otago Search & Rescue team won "rescue of the month" for a daring night-time rescue. 

On March 6, the team were summoned by police when two surfers were stranded on the rocks at Bird Island, near Ocean Grove, Dunedin..

Within 15 minutes of the call, one inflatable rescue boat (IRB) was launched from St Kilda and a second from St Clair. A third crew responded by picking up a rescue water craft (jet ski).

With light rapidly fading, safety and visibility were key, SLSNZ said in a media statement. Surf lifeguards kitted themselves out with strobe lights and personal locator beacons, while a team back on shore at St Clair Surf Life Saving Club maintained communication with the two IRB crews.

"The surf was over 1.5m high when the two IRB crews reached the island – dangerous conditions to navigate, particularly around rocks," the statement said. "They devised a plan to send the first IRB to collect both surfers off the rocks and return them to Tomahawk Beach, while the second IRB would collect the two surfboards. This second step was important, because if members of the public spotted surfboards on the island they would likely ring emergency services once again."

The two surfers were extremely cold, but otherwise unharmed aside from some minor cuts and scratches.

As the two crews headed back to their respective clubs, they faced increasingly difficult conditions with messy surf reaching 2m. By this point, light had faded and the crews arrived to shore in near-complete darkness.

Given the cold and the difficult conditions this particular evening, it is likely the two surfers would have met a very different end if not for the quick and skilful actions of the Otago SAR team, SLSNZ said.

Warrington Surf Life Saving Club takes second and third

The national body awarded the Warrington club second and third place in the rescue of the month award for March 2021.

The second-placed rescue occurred when a single Surf Lifeguard was watching six people swimming between the flags.

Meanwhile, two off-duty lifeguards were surfing and surf-skiing nearby.

They noticed a young girl became separated from her father as the current pulled her out beyond her depth. The two off-duty lifeguards noticed her beginning to panic and Rhys Owen (who was using a surfboard) helped the young girl onto his board. However, due to the small size of his board and the large waves, he wasn’t able to paddle back to shore with her safely.

Mark Hastie, who had been paddling his surf ski, rode to shore and grabbed an inflatable rescue boat (IRB) to help with the rescue. Meanwhile, Danielle Swales (the Surf Lifeguard on patrol) radioed the club for backup.

Mr Hastie and another lifeguard Kayle Harris launched the IRB and rescued the young girl, delivering her to her father back on shore.

In a media statement, the organisation said the quick response of these two surf lifeguards – who weren’t even on patrol at the time – made a huge difference on the day. They showed quick thinking in a tricky situation and ensured that this family could go home intact after a day at the beach.

The third-placed rescue occurred in mid-March when Warrington life-savers had just finished conducting a first aid on the beach when a member of the public alerted them to several people attempting to cross a section of Blueskin Bay from an island in the middle.

Surf lifeguards found a group of nine people was attempting to cross contained a 4m-deep channel using kayaks and stand up paddle boards to transport their packs, wading alongside them as they moved closer to the deep water channel.

Strong winds were making it difficult for the group to maintain control of the vessels and, with an outgoing tide, they were quickly becoming tired.

The Warrington lifeguards deployed an inflatable rescue boat and assisted one adult and eight children across the channel and back to dry ground.



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