Freddie, 12, saves people from rip at Mount beach

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Freddie Mitchell, 12, saved two people from a rip in Mount Maunganui.

By: Zoe Hunter
Multimedia journalist


This summer NZME is helping Surf Life Saving New Zealand to help save lives. The charity relies on the goodwill of thousands of volunteers, fundraising, grants and sponsorship to keep our beaches patrolled. Here's your chance to help raise money for new equipment and lifeguard training.

Freddie Mitchell is too young to be an official lifeguard - but he has already saved lives from the water.

The Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service junior oceans school athlete celebrated his 12th birthday on Friday.

By Sunday, he had rescued two people from a rip on the Mount Main Beach.

The 12-year-old was out on his kneeboard playing in the waves when his father Grant Mitchell called him in from the beach.

It was just about 3pm and the waves were only about 3ft high.

But Mitchell had spotted three men - believed to be of Indian descent and aged in their mid-to-late 20s - in trouble about 60m offshore.

He instructed Freddie to paddle out again and check it out.

"They were in a big huge hole... in a big rip," Freddie said.

Once Freddie had paddled close enough, he tried to help the men swim out of the rip.

One of the men understood and started to swim out, but not quite far enough, while another man tried to hop on to Freddie's board. A third man was able to swim back to shore.

Freddie Mitchell joined the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifeguard Service at age four. Photo / George Novak

Freddie said the man who was trying to hop on to his board kept tipping it over, almost drowning the both of them.

"He thought it was the funniest thing. I just flipped it back over and told him, 'No' and to hold on. I have a small board and it can't hold that much weight," he said.

"I think the man was just super tired and then he held on to my board and just started coughing heaps. I knew he was alright because that happens quite a lot, you just take in a bit of water and cough."

Knowing he could not paddle the two men back to shore alone, Freddie signalled Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service's Kent Jarman who was patrolling the beach on his jetski.

Freddie then waited patiently in the water with the two men until Jarman arrived to tow the men back to safety on the jetski.

Freddie Mitchell, 12, saved two people from a rip in Mount Maunganui. Photo / George Novak

Throughout the incident, Freddie said he kept a cool head.

"I wasn't too worried because it wasn't super major. But it might have turned major," he said.

Freddie has been training with the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifeguard Service since he was four-years-old and joined after following the footsteps of his older brother and sister.

When asked if he thought he was a hero, Freddie shook his head and said, "Not really".

But his father Grant Mitchell was proud nonetheless.

"It is the fact that he has only just turned 12 and he goes out there and just kept a level head," he said.

"I think that was what I was most proud of is the fact that he didn't panic and he knew just to wait there because he couldn't bring them in by himself."

Mitchell said one of the men looked like he was in serious trouble but knew his son was "totally capable" of handling the situation.

"I nearly went in but I saw Freddie was there and he was alright," he said.

"I guess all the training he has done over the last eight years kicked in and he didn't panic. He helped keep them safe until further assistance arrived."

Life member and patrol captain Kent Jarman said one of the men had flipped Freddie's board three or four times while trying to clamber to safety.

"Freddie did amazing. The guy was freaking out but Freddie was calm as," he said.

"I had it easy, Freddie did all the hard work."

Head coach Patrick Bird said seeing his junior athletes out there doing what Freddie did was impressive.

Bird said he had not heard of anyone younger than 13 to have saved someone from the surf, but Freddie was one of the surf club's highly trained and elite Under 12s.

"Just from that incident, he had all of the techniques, all of the right approaches to the scenario where most people wouldn't really know what to do," he said.

"He kept a level head and he knew what he had to do and that is just outstanding."



This article was originally published by the NZ Herald on December 31, 2019.