Sunset Beach Mass Rescue Wins National Award

Friday, 10 May 2013

The dramatic mass rescue of 10 rock fishermen at Port Waikato on Easter Monday has won a national surf lifesaving award.

Each month, Surf Life Saving New Zealand selects a winning rescue from each region as well as an overall national winner for the title of BP Rescue of the Month. Lifeguards from the Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service have won the BP Rescue of the Month award for April.

At 11.30am on Easter Monday, the final day of the patrol season, a mobile lifeguard patrol observed a group of fishermen who were at the southern end of the beach. They were stranded by the incoming tide on a rocky outcrop around 60 metres from the shore line.

The group were fully clothed and had fishing equipment with them. With the tide on its way in, the surf was building and waves were beginning to crash over the rocks and lifeguards knew they had to act quickly.

Accessing the group from the seaward side was ruled out by three metre waves and due to the rocks, it was also impractical to use an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB). Instead, lifeguards made the decision to access the area from the coastline and they made their way two kilometres around the coast armed with rescue tubes, life jackets, rescue boards and first aid equipment. 

The lifeguards reached a small beach close to where the fisherman were stranded and a number of them swam 60 metres out to the rock and assisted them, one by one, back to shore. The Korean fishermen had limited English and were very reluctant to leave the rock. It took 30 minutes for this part of the mission and despite being in various stages of hyperthermia, all 10 were landed safely on the beach. 

With the tide almost fully in, the lifeguards' position on the small beach was now perilous as they were left with only a small space on the sand facing steep cliffs.  After accessing alternative options, it was decided the quickest and safest way to get the fishermen to safety was to winch them out.

The rescue helicopter was called and lifeguards continued to monitor the fishermen as they waited.

Lifeguards back at the club cleared the car park for a landing pad and the helicopter crew began winching out the group, which took 45 minutes to complete.

Once all the fishermen were back on land, they were assessed, kept warm and allowed go home around one hour later. 

The rescue took four hours from the first observation of the fisherman to completion of the mission. The lifeguards involved demonstrated great skill in a rescue which involved extremely dangerous conditions. Had it not been a patrol day, the outcome could have been very different with potentially 10 people drowning.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand chairman Michael Bassett-Foss says the extraordinary efforts shown by the Lifeguards was outstanding. "Admiration of the skill and professionalism shown by those involved in the incident is testament to qualities valued by Surf Life Saving New Zealand and BP," he says.

The club receives a $100 fuel voucher from BP to help with the financial costs of keeping communities safe in the water.

April marks the final round for this season's Rescue of the Month awards.

Download the official citation here (pdf, 652kb)