Kariaotahi Surf Lifesaving Club wins national award for boat capsize rescue

Friday, 20 December 2019

A dramatic rescue on the Waikato River Bar has won the national title of Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s BP Rescue of the Month for the winter/November period.

The charity invites clubs to submit their rescues to be judged for the title of BP Rescue of the Month which aim to recognise operational excellence by Surf Lifeguards around the country.

Bradley Walters is Kariaotahi Surf Lifesaving Club’s Head of Lifesaving and says three fatalities were avoided on May 25, 2019 due to the “efficient and effective response” of the club’s Emergency Call Out Squad and partnering agencies, after a boat capsized on the Waikato River Bar.

A seven-year-old boy, a woman in her 30s and a man were in the boat which stalled and flipped while they negotiated the bar crossing at Port Waikato about 5.30pm, tossing them into the freezing water.

The rescue was big due to all the agencies involved – from Surf Lifeguards to police, rescue chopper staff, Coastguard and St John who all attended the scene.

About 12 volunteers from Kariaotahi Surf Lifesaving Club responded, and the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter searched for the trio from the air.

However, it wasn't until the police eagle helicopter arrived - with infrared heat-detection equipment on board - about 15 minutes later that the trio were spotted huddling together in the water, wearing lifejackets, about 600m to 700m offshore.

Conditions were difficult – it was a dark night with no moon to help in their search.

Initially the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew tried to winch the trio to safety but after attempting the rescue, they deemed the conditions too unsafe and advised that winching them to safety was no longer an option.

Following a thorough risk assessment it was decided Kariaotahi’s IRB (inflatable rescue boat) would be sent out with Nick Hornblow as driver and Bradley Walters as crewman. They would rely on the rescue helicopter’s night light to guide their path, as well as Police and surf club vehicles parked on the beach with their headlights on to give added visibility.

Two minutes after launching, the IRB had reached the patients and the crew were pulling them into the boat.

By 7.20pm the IRB was back on shore with all three people. The woman and child both needed immediate treatment; the woman went into cardiac arrest just as she was being loaded into the chopper. CPR was performed on her a number of times as she was transported to hospital.

The man was walking and talking, and he was transported back up to the surf club, to a waiting ambulance.

Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter intensive care paramedic Casey Drum said at the time that the rescue “was outstanding”.

"It was pretty testing conditions for [the surf club crew] but they did a fantastic job in a real slick rescue to pull them all into the boat and get back to shore really timely actually. Just in time.”

Kariaotahi Surf Lifesaving Club president Mike Lawrence praised the people in the water for not only all wearing lifejackets but for being able to stay together.

Mr Walters says without the well-executed rescue plan, years of prior training, sound processes and risk assessments in place by all agencies involved and the fast, efficient patient pick up performed by the IRB under difficult conditions it would be almost certain that three lives would have been lost that night.

“It was a fantastic, well-coordinated, multi-agency response which had a positive outcome for all involved.”

For their efforts, the Surf Lifeguards will receive a $500 BP gift voucher for their club.

“This rescue is yet another example of the importance of IRBs to Surf Clubs all over the country, and testament to the skills and tenacity of the Surf Life Guards who keep us safe at the beach,” BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says.

“We’re incredibly proud to have supported Surf Life Saving for 51 years, and to have the opportunity to recognise the outstanding skills shown in this rescue.”

Piha Surf Life Saving Club and Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service will receive $300 and $200 BP gift cards respectively as BP Rescue of the Month second and third place getters.


For more information, please contact:
Melanie Louden
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving NZ
021 757 433