Piha SLSC Awarded 1st Place for February '22 bp Rescue of the Month

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Informal lifeguard training session saves lives of rock fishermen swept off rocks at Piha. 

On the 20th of February, the forecast for Piha was for a long period of swell doubling in height through the morning. This resulted in developing and challenging surf conditions. Five Piha SLSC Lifeguards from the Active Reserve Patrol, which is made up of older and experienced members, took advantage of the situation to undertake an informal training swim late in the morning. 

The keyhole tunnel in Piha’s Camel Rock is a popular spot for fishermen, but anyone casting a line here runs the risk of being washed off the rocky platform when waves are big. Near the keyhole, a local surfer alerted the group, saying two fishermen had been washed into the “gap” and were drowning. The Lifeguards responded, one running to advise the Patrol Captain and launch an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB), while three entered the water at the gap and another oversaw the area.  

Fortunately, another fisherman had deployed an angel ring which the pair were able to cling to. The conditions in the gap were extreme with 3-metre sets breaking across the whole bay into the steep rock walls and across the fishing ledge.  

Three Lifeguards entered the water, and one was able to reach the pair and support them. The fishermen had been injured while being washed over the rocks and were struggling to keep hold of the angel ring. It was very difficult for the Lifeguards to support the pair while being hit by the incoming waves and the bounce-back from the cliffs.  

An IRB was launched from Piha by an Active Reserve member and a younger Patrol Captain. Arriving at the scene, the first pickup was aborted due to an incoming set wave, but a second pass successfully uplifted two of the fishermen.  

One patient was in a serious condition with pallor, laboured breathing and semi-conscious. He was unable to provide any support for himself. It was determined later that he suffered broken ribs and lung damage while being washed over the rocks. The Lifeguard in the water had managed to keep the man afloat and attached to the angel ring. The second fisherman had significant impact injuries from the rocks and was struggling to use the angel ring for support. Again, he was supported on the angel ring with the help of the Lifeguard.  

The two fishermen were returned to the beach where Lifeguards were waiting to move them to the first aid room. Triage and medical assistance were provided by Piha SLSC and St John First Response, and the men were then flown to hospital by the Westpac Helicopter. The Piha Lifeguards in the water either swam back across the gap or returned by IRB to continue their training swim.  

This was an outstanding rescue where the two fishermen were minutes away from dying. Without intervention, they had no chance of surviving. Conditions were absolutely daunting with 3-metre sets sweeping into the bay, it was only sheer chance that the Lifeguards were already on the scene. The immediate response from the Guards stabilized the situation, the IRB backed up quickly, successfully uplifting the patients and the on-beach medical response ensured the best possible outcome. These two men were the luckiest fishermen of the weekend.  

bp Head of Country NZ Matt Elliott says, “Since 1968 bp has been proud to stand behind Surf Life Saving New Zealand and its Surf Lifeguards who consistently put their amazing skills into action to keep us all safer at our beaches.”