Off-duty lifeguard wins award for plucking unconscious man from waves

Posted by Melanie Louden on Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Saffi Vette of Wainui Surf Life Saving Club, has won Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) sought-after BP Rescue of the Month award for winter, after saving a man’s life while she was off-duty and surfing in Gisborne earlier this year.

The man was thought to have suffered a medical event while surfing and was spotted struggling in the waves by Vette who sprang into action and coordinated a speedy rescue with other surfers. Since the September rescue, she has been credited with saving his life, and in doing so has won the national award because of the life she saved.

On September 21, Vette headed out to The Creek, a point break at Makorori Beach just north of Gisborne, for a day of surfing but noticed something wasn’t quite right with a fellow surfer nearby.

The man she spotted fell off his board awkwardly, and began to “flap” about in the water, she said.

“I thought that was a bit odd, and then as I watched, he rolled over and went face down in the water.”

She immediately started paddling towards him, yelling for help from other surfers in the vicinity.

She and two male surfers hauled the unconscious man up onto his surfboard, among the waves, while Vette made sure his airway was open. The trio then got him back to shore where they were able to call 111 and start first aid.

The man was critical but good CPR, performed by the two surfers and assisted by Vette, helped keep the unconscious man alive until paramedics could arrive and take over. St John paramedics said Vette’s quick response ultimately saved the man’s life.

She was pleased they could help the man, who would have been helpless in the water otherwise.

“The three of us reacted quickly to what happened. I think if we had not done so the outcome could have been a lot worse,” she said at the time.

Vette’s experience as a lifeguard, vigilance and ability to smoothly pull the team together to carry out the rescue in a difficult situation was invaluable.

Surf Life Saving NZ (SLSNZ) Eastern Region Lifesaving Manager Chase Cahalane said everyone is proud of Vette for her swift response and says she deserves this recognition for her efforts.

“For Saffi [Vette] it was a huge effort and it just goes to show how the surf lifesaving training and first aid can pay off, even when they’re not on patrol. Surf lifeguards are a valuable asset to the community all year round, and this shows exactly that,” he said.

“If she hadn’t identified that he was in trouble, then we have no doubt the outcome would have been very different,” Cahalane added.

For her efforts, Wainui Surf Life Saving Club will be awarded with a $500 BP gift voucher and further praise from Mr Cahalane.

“We are immensely proud of Saffi [Vette] for her efforts in helping this man in his time of need, and ensuring he got the best possible care within minutes,” he said.

BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says the skills demonstrated by Vette for her part in the rescue was outstanding.

“Since 1968 we have been proud to stand behind this amazing organisation who help save the lives of thousands of people every year as well as educate people about how to stay safe on our beaches,” she says.

Second and third place-getters, Bethells Beach Surf Life Saving Patrol and Sunset Beach Surf Life Saving Club, both receive BP gift cards for their efforts over the winter months too. They take home BP gift cards worth $300 and $200 respectively.

Photo of Saffi supplied thanks to Sonic NZ.


To enter BP Rescue of the Month, please click here.

For more information, please contact:

Alana McIsaac, Media & Communications Manager
Phone 027 515 7157

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