A daring rescue wins the Taranaki Search and Rescue Squad the bp Rescue of the Year AwardThursday, 23 September 2021
23 September 2021
A daring rescue wins the Taranaki Search and Rescue Squad the bp Rescue of the Year Award
Parakai rock sits off Back Beach near Port Taranaki. It’s a popular spot with an alluring lagoon, but if you don’t keep a close eye on the incoming tide, getting trapped there is a real possibility. On January 5th, 2021, Taranaki Search and Rescue (SAR) Squad coordinator David Bentley received a call from the local Police Search and Rescue team. A group of four teenage girls had become stranded.
One of the girls attempted a journey to shore but was unsuccessful due to the current pushing them in the wrong direction towards Paritutu rock. They scrambled back up the rocky terrain on Parakai rock to rejoin their friends. Dusk was arriving, and the girls were cold and wet. Together, they decided to phone for help. Taranaki SAR was initially relieved, as the group had reported that no one was in the water and that they were at a familiar location. However, with the fading light, rising sea level, strengthening currents and multiple people to rescue, relief began turning to concern. The combination of challenging conditions makes rescues like this much more difficult.
Squad members Andrew Cronin, Scott Nelson and Richard Matheson, sprang into action. Being a rescue swimmer, Andrew was soon on the beach with a wetsuit and waterproof radio, ready to make his way across. Once past the challenging stretch of water between Parakai and Mataora rock, he climbed up to reach the girls on the island. They were relieved upon Andrew’s arrival. His first move was to shift the group to a more sheltered position and assess for any injuries.
Andrew radioed the team to form a plan on where to meet and how to extract the girls. As his colleagues arrived in the inflatable rescue boat (IRB), he led two girls down the rocks in the dimming light, getting them close to the water’s edge. Scott put his skills in risk assessment and handling an IRB to the test with little margin for error. He safely crossed through increasingly choppy waters to position the vessel as close to the rocks as possible. Then, Andrew and IRB crewmate Richard held the boat steady against the fast current while assisting the two girls in boarding the craft.
After dropping the first two girls to safety on the beach, Scott and Richard took the IRB back out to the meeting point, navigating the strong currents a second time to do so. Andrew had again scaled the rocks on Parakai and guided the remaining two girls in low light to the same pick-up location. He and the girls jumped in, happy to see Parakai and Makaora rocks behind them. It was nightfall by the time everyone was safely returned to shore.
Such a daring rescue with multiple obstacles could have created even more complications, but the Taranaki SAR Squad’s impressive skills made all the difference and ensured a successful rescue operation. An accomplishment that sees them deservingly win the bp Rescue of the Year Award at Surf Lifesaving New Zealand’s National Awards of Excellence Ceremony.
Squad coordinator David states swift action, constant risk assessment, and strong teamwork in challenging conditions are what made this rescue possible. “This rescue has been humbling and shown the hard work that all of our team has put in behind the scenes over the years has come together. The time spent building relationships with our community SAR partners has proven a success, as shown in this delicate dusk rescue.”
Andrew adds, “the most positive thing that happened for this job is that the girls realised that they couldn’t get back safely, and they rang for help, which was awesome.” On behalf of the Taranaki community and SAR Squad, Andrew would also like to thank those that allow rescues such as this to happen. “We heavily rely on the support of some of our generous sponsors. We're grateful for those that have enabled us over a long period of time to provide this call out service throughout our community.”