Between the flags: Lifeguard Jimmy Kendrick saved three lives in one rescue

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Off-duty lifeguard Jimmy Kendrick saved the lives of three swimmers at Bethells Beach, two of whom were about
400m offshore. Photo / Michael Craig

NZ Herald

By: Elizabeth Binning

This summer NZME is helping Surf Life Saving 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.

As off-duty lifeguard Jimmy Kendrick swam out towards a struggling swimmer, he could see that the man was starting to drown.

"You could see his swimming technique changing, you could see him becoming more fatigued, you could see his arms coming out the water," recalls the experienced lifeguard.

"He was starting to splash and you could start seeing his head was starting to bob, which are all quite clear signs to a lifeguard of someone in the beginning stages of drowning.

"As I swam closer to him I could see that more clearly. When I got to him I could see he was panicked and struggling to stay afloat."

If the 24-year-old Bethells Beach volunteer hadn't be there on March 26 there's a good chance the young man, who had gone into the water to check on his sister, wouldn't have made it back to shore.

"In less than 10 minutes he would have been under, he would have drowned."

Kendrick, a St John paramedic who joined the junior surf programme when he was 12, had been at Bethells Beach all day carrying out water safety education. It was a Tuesday and outside of the surf lifesaving season and he decided to go for a swim after the training.

Off-duty lifeguard Jimmy Kendrick spent 20 minutes getting to swimmers back to shore before going back into the water
for a third person. Photo / Michael Craig

He hadn't even made it to the water when locals told him a man had injured himself jumping across a creek. Kendrick and another off-duty lifeguard grabbed some equipment from the clubhouse and stayed with him until an ambulance arrived.

When he finally got to the water's edge late in the afternoon for his swim he saw friends of the injured man, two of whom were in the water and were getting pulled into a rip, and another two still on the beach.

Kendrick told the friends on the beach that he would swim over to them as they were in a dangerous area but they would need to act fast if he needed help.

"I told [their friends] on the beach 'if I put my hand up could you go to surf club, there's an emergency button next to it where you press it to activate the lifeguards'."

"One of them was an off-duty cop so I gave him clear instructions of what to do so he took it quite seriously. You could see he responded quite urgently once I put my hand up."

It didn't take long for Kendrick to see one of them was in real trouble.

"As I was swimming out I could clearly see one of the swimmers getting in distress."

Kendrick reached the struggling man, who was about 300-400m out to sea, and turned him on his back to keep him afloat. He then went across to the female swimmer, the man's sister, and tried to help her too.

"The female was saying 'oh we are fine'. I said 'no you're not, you're in trouble. You just listen to me and keep swimming' and then within five minutes or so she started getting tired."

By this stage the friends on the beach had gone to raise the alarm but the alarm didn't activate properly and with limited reception it was some time before they could get help.

In the meantime Kendrick focused on keeping the siblings alive.

"I'm out in the ocean with two people, grabbing one person with each of my arms, keeping them floating while I'm trying to swim them out the rip and get them across and then try to get them back to shore. It took about 20 minutes to swim out across and in."

A surfer came to help and they managed to get the man on to his board, which helped get him to shore safely.

By the time all three were back on dry land, a member of the public who had tried to help had become stuck so Kendrick grabbed the surfer's board and headed back out again for a third rescue.

Kendrick has been involved in more than 40 rescues in his years as a volunteer but says this one really stands out for him.

"A day like that was a very rewarding day because it's not too often you have to do the whole rescue yourself, normally you have a team, you have equipment so that's the most memorable rescue I've had for a long time."

Kendrick said the rescue happened outside of the paid lifeguard season and volunteers only operate in the weekends between Labour Weekend and Easter.


This article was originally published by the NZ Herald on December 29, 2019.