2nd Place Prize for Sumner SLSC Following Epic Mass Rescue

Monday, 25 January 2021

Press release

January 25, 2021

[Image: Sumner SLSC Surf Lifeguards debrief following a mass rescue involving 27 people pulled out in a flash rip]


Sumner SLSC Surf Lifeguards knew they were in for a busy day on December 19, 2020. Christchurch’s temperatures were predicted to hit a whopping 30 degrees, heavy surf crashed along the beach, and the tide was set to be outgoing for most of the day.

The beach had become increasingly dangerous in the months leading up to mid-December, with large rips, holes, currents and surf creating a problems for keen beachgoers even on quieter days.  

With this in mind, Surf Lifeguards were well prepared. No less than 26 members were on site, either on patrol or taking part in a club training day. Patrol Captain Harry Taylor and Vice-Patrol Captain William Simmons established a rotational system for everyone and briefed them on the day ahead.

Due to the predicted conditions, Surf Lifeguards were out in the water from the start forming an area around the swimmers keeping them safe throughout the day.

This turned out to be a lifesaving decision of epic proportions.

At 3pm, a large flash rip opened up to the right of the flags. Six swimmers, who seconds before had been happily on their feet, were swept into the rip, immediately getting into trouble. Surf Lifeguard Per Tonascia, who was already in the water on a board, immediately responded and secured all six of the swimmers within seconds of them being pulled out. William Simmons and Charlotte Doogue, who had tubes, also assisted while the IRB (driven by Kate Suter and Keke Mote), was launched to retrieve the swimmers and returned them to shore. 

However, by the time the first six swimmers were back on shore, a further 21 members of public had been sucked out by the rip. Every single one of the 21 members was secured and kept safe by over 10 lifeguards within seconds.

Eight more people hung on to Tonascia’s board. Angus Ashcroft secured a further five on a board, while Liv Austin, Bradon Foster and Harry Taylor secured a further two each in tubes. Charlotte Doogue and Nellie Manning secured one each in a rescue tube and swam them back to shore, where Wayne and Jack Simmons swam out from the flags to assist in the rescue, creating a two-person tow.

Simmons swam between each group left out in the water, assessing conditions/highest risk groups, and coordinating with the IRB crew as to which members of public should be picked up first. Suter and Mote pulled up to six people into the IRB at a time, all while holding position in large surf and coordinating around the cave rocks, other people, lifeguards, tubes and boards. A second IRB was also launched by Jess Larson and Ben Cummins to assist in returning people to shore, as well as to keep an eye on the lifeguards in the water.

Within 10 minutes, all 27 members of public had been returned to shore either by IRB, tube or board, none with any serious conditions, but all very happy and grateful to be on the shore. The flash rip had gone and everything settled back to normal. A debrief was then run with the whole team at the end of the day.

A great deal of teamwork was needed to coordinate the mammoth response. Due to the proactive work of the Surf Lifeguards, there was not a single moment where a member of public in trouble was left by themselves without a lifeguard’s assistance. This was one of the most seamless, well-coordinated mass rescues Sumner Beach has seen in living memory.

bp NZ Managing Director, Matt Elliott says bp is “incredibly proud” to have partnered with Surf Life Saving New Zealand since 1968.

“bp has been in partnership with Surf Life Saving New Zealand for 53 years and is so proud to support the organisation’s efforts in keeping us all safer at our beaches. This rescue is a great illustration of the incredible difference Surf Lifeguards make on our beaches across the country.”

As the second-place winner of bp Rescue of the Month, Sumner SLSC will be recognised with $300-worth of bp gift vouchers.


RELAX & float to conserve your energy. 

RAISE your hand to signal for help.

RIDE the rip until it stops & you can swim back to shore or help arrives.




SLSNZ is the national association representing 74 surf lifesaving clubs with 18,000+ members, including more than 4,500 volunteer Surf Lifeguards. Our lifeguards patrol over 90 locations each summer and provide emergency call-out rescue services throughout Aotearoa, saving hundreds of lives each year and ensuring thousands return home safe after a day at the beach.

We do all this as a charity and rely on the generosity of the public, commercial partners, foundations and trusts for donations and financial contributions in order to lead and support our incredible front-line volunteer lifeguarding services.

For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving NZ

021 757 433