Recovery of crab-fisherman at Uretiti recognised by Surf Life Saving NZ

Thursday, 23 January 2020


                              Waipu Cove Beach                                                                               Ruakaka Beach

The Surf Lifeguards involved in the search for, and recovery of, the body of a crab-fisherman who died at Uretiti Beach in Bream Bay on Christmas Day 2019 have been recognised by Surf Life Saving New Zealand and BP.

Surf Lifeguards from both Ruakaka and Waipu Cove Surf Life Saving Clubs were involved in the emergency call out and have won first place in the BP Rescue of the Month competition for December.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand invites clubs to submit their rescues to be judged for the title of BP Rescue of the Month, which recognises operational excellence by Surf Lifeguards around the country.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region Duty Officer Dan Short says the Surf Lifeguards were alerted to a crab-fisherman in distress off Uretiti Beach in Bream Bay just after 10.15am.

He says those involved instantly recognised the severity of the call based on the history of similar incidents in the area.

Surf Lifeguards at Ruakaka were in the middle of setting up patrol for the day and quickly responded in an IRB (inflatable rescue boat) towards Uretiti Beach.

An IRB from Waipu Cove and a Rescue Water Craft (jetski) from Ruakaka also attended.

Mr Short says when Surf Lifeguards arrived, Police officers were talking to the informant and all that could be seen in the water were the fisherman's crab-pots behind the 1.5m waves.

More resources arrived on the scene, including Northland Emergency Services Trust Helicopter, St John Ambulance and Fire and Emergency NZ. Boaties who had heard Coastguard’s mayday call were also helping search beyond the waves.

Coastguard's Marsden Rescue and a Northland Search and Rescue Coordinator were also en route and Coastguard's Air Patrol was tasked with attending.

By this time it was 11.15am and beach numbers were increasing so the Callout Squads for both Waipu Cove and Ruakaka beaches were called on to join the remaining guards for normal patrolling.

Mr Short says the water at Waipu Cove was glassy and rip currents were starting to form with the incoming surf when two Surf Lifeguards noticed two swimmers within the flags starting to go beyond their depth unaware they were slowly being pulled out of the safe area.

Lifeguards tried to warn them with their whistles and tubes from the beach but could tell that the swimmers were heading towards a rip.

One of the Surf Lifeguards quickly entered the water with his tube and fins and made it to the swimmers just as they were getting in distress.

He returned them safely to shore and patrol continued.

Eight kilometres further north, the search for the missing crab-fisherman continued. It was now 11.30am and the search was winding down with no sighting.

Surf Lifeguards from Ruakaka Emergency Call Out Squad had arrived on the scene to help with the search. Two lifeguards were swimming in the shallow surf zone alongside the two IRBs and the jet ski.

The Northland Rescue Helicopter started its final search along the shoreline when the crew spotted the crab-fisherman in the surf zone not far from the crab-pots.

As lifeguards were directed to him, the helicopter lost sight of him with a large set distorting the water visibility.

At 11.53am the helicopter once again saw the crab-fisherman and in a quick response between waves the Waipu IRB, with assistance from a Surf Lifeguard in the water, pulled the deceased man into the boat and returned him to shore.

Mr Short says although the outcome was tragic, overall it was a very professional and planned response from all Surf Lifeguards involved.

“The Surf Lifeguards that responded all worked together as one large team despite their different roles on the day. They represented Surf Life Saving NZ at a very high level in this critical multi-agency incident.

“Because of these lifeguards, the deceased patient was able to be returned to his family on Christmas Day and because of the efforts from the lifeguards who stayed to maintain patrol, two lives were also saved.”

The Surf Lifeguards involved will be recognised with $250 worth of BP gift vouchers for each of the clubs. (A total prize of $500.)

“The outcome of this search was unfortunately tragic and our thoughts are with the crab-fisherman’s family and the Surf Lifeguards involved,” BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says.

“We know that IRBs are important to Surf Clubs all over the country and this is another example of why that’s the case. We would like to acknowledge and recognise the tenacity and incredible commitment of the lifeguards who were involved.

“We’re incredibly proud to have supported Surf Life Saving for 52 years, and to have the opportunity to recognise the outstanding skills shown in this incident.”

United North Piha Lifeguard Service and Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club 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 New Zealand
021 757 433