bp Rescue of the Month - 2023/2024 Winter Winners

Thursday, 21 December 2023

Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) would like to congratulate the winners of the 2023/2024 Winter bp Rescue of the Month.


The monthly award celebrates the commitment and expertise displayed by surf lifeguards, showcasing their skills and training in searches, rescues, and first-aids.


Throughout the winter period, surf lifeguards around the country responded to a range of incidents, however there were three that stood out including a search and rescue operation at the Waikato River mouth, and two critical first aid scenarios.  These incidents show the incredible range of skills possessed by surf lifeguards and their critical role in ensuring people’s safety, even beyond the water’s edge.  


Well done to all surf lifeguards involved, along with the other emergency services who they worked alongside.


The winner of each region will be awarded a $250 bp gift card.  These monthly winners will also be finalists for the prestigious Rescue of the Year, which is announced at the annual SLSNZ Awards of Excellence.


Please note that there is no Central Region 2023/2024 Winter Winner as no nominations were received.



Northern Region bp Rescue of the Month


Winner:  Kariaotahi Surf Life Saving Club and Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service


Counties Energy SLS Kariaotahi SAR Squad and Sunset Beach LS SAR Squad


On the morning of Monday, 23 October, just past 8:30am, a boat capsized at the Waikato River mouth, resulting in three people being thrown overboard.  Amidst the chaos, one in the group, a woman now in the water, quickly activated the emergency call function on her mobile phone.  Although emergency services were not able to talk to her, they were able to get an idea of her location and confirm that she was in the water.


The Counties Energy Kariaotahi Search and Rescue (SAR) Squad and Sunset Beach LS SAR Squad were tasked to respond. After an initial search, with four Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB) and one Rescue Watercraft (RWC), the Auckland Police Eagle Helicopter, scanning from above, spotted two people about three kilometres north of where they thought the boat capsized.  


Meanwhile, the Kariaotahi SAR Squad, who had three surf lifeguards and a second RWC en route, had not yet gotten on the water to join the search.  Observing the Police Eagle Helicopter circling above the water away from where the initial search was taking place, they quickly altered their launch point and soon after retrieved two of the three people, bringing them back to the waiting surf lifeguards on shore.  A police officer, then bundled the cold and shaken pair into his warm vehicle.


The third person was rescued by a member of the public aboard their boat, who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  They transferred the person to surf lifeguards who took them to a waiting ambulance.


This incident had a successful outcome, but if the trio who went overboard were not wearing life jackets and didn’t have a form of communication with them, the outcome could have been far more dire.


It also showed how the rigorous training undertaken by both SAR squads is invaluable and inter-agency collaboration is essential.



Eastern Region bp Rescue of the Month


Winner:  Whiritoa Lifeguard Service


Amelia Wood, Charlotte Wood, Samantha Smith, Tate Carruthers, Dylan Shannon-Metzger, Richie Wood, Charlize Kerr


On the morning of Saturday, 3 June, at around 10am, a group of surf lifeguards from Whiritoa Lifeguard Service on the Coromandel Peninsula arrived on the beach for Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) training.  However, before they could begin, the club’s chair noticed beachgoers congregating around a person roughly 200 metres north of the club.  She quickly alerted the surf lifeguards who started making their way up the beach.  Senior surf lifeguard Charlotte Wood rushed ahead and discovered a long-time friend of the clubs and frequent surfer, lying face down, curled up on the sand, complaining of severe neck, head, and shoulder pain.  She immediately advised the other surf lifeguards to bring a trauma kit and a spinal board. 


Charlotte was informed that an ambulance had already been called by an onlooker with no estimated time of arrival.  Due to the incoming tide, Amelia Wood and Charlotte made the critical decision to shift the person up the beach to allow for full immobilisation. Samantha Smith, Dylan Shannon-Metzger, and Richie Wood, with the help of some ex-surf lifeguards, assisted Charlotte in straightening the patient’s legs by digging a shallow hole in the sand to keep the person still before rolling him onto the spinal board.


While they waited for an ambulance to arrive, surf lifeguards checked for further injuries and continued providing treatment for shock and hypothermia.  They also managed the growing numbers of beachgoers while assisting the victim’s family.


The person’s condition soon worsened, with progressive weakness and tingling in all limbs, breathing difficulties, and growing confusion. Amelia administered oxygen, and Charlotte called SurfCom to confirm an arrival time for the ambulance. This call resulted in Surfcom coordinating with Hato Hone St John to task a helicopter, given the man’s worsening condition.


Surf lifeguards continued to administer oxygen and immobilise the patient until paramedics and the Whangamatā Search and Rescue Squad arrived on scene together. The person was airlifted to Middlemore Hospital and is currently recovering from a serious upper cervical spine injury that is almost always fatal at the scene.


The surf lifeguards’ immediate response and the execution of their skills off-duty, under the pressure of assisting a local friend, saved the patient’s life and minimised the extremely high chance of tetraplegia from a shattered C1 vertebrae. Had the surf lifeguards not responded as they did, it is likely that bystanders without first aid knowledge could have exacerbated an already terrible situation.


Medical professionals later recognised that this injury could well have been devastating if not for the near-perfect first aid response of the surf lifeguards. 




Southern Region bp Rescue of the Month


Winner:  New Brighton SLSC


Lachlan Hill and Caitlin Knudsen


On Sunday, 26 November, New Brighton Surf Life Saving Club surf lifeguards Lachlan Hill and Caitlin Knudsen had just dropped off a surf boat in Wellington and were heading home to Christchurch.


During their journey, they decided to stop and take a photo at a popular surfing spot just north of Kaikoura. As they got out of the car, a young surfer was hit by a car travelling at 85 kilometres per hour along State Highway One.


Reacting quickly, Lachlan immediately retrieved the first aid equipment from the car while Caitlin applied pressure to the woman’s head. She was severely injured, suffering from a broken leg and a large gash running the length of her head.


Utilising their first aid skills, the surf lifeguards attempted to stem the bleeding which was challenging due to the size of the gash.  They also kept the woman calm and comfortable while other members of the public managed the heavy traffic flow.


Due to poor phone reception, the person on the phone to emergency services had to stand down the road away from the incident, making communication between them, the surf lifeguards, and Hato Hone St John essential.   


After 30 minutes of intensive first aid, the ambulance and critical care unit arrived. Caitlin and Lachlan continued to assist the woman alongside Hato Hone St John, the Police, and the Kaikoura Fire Brigade.


Around 40 minutes later, a helicopter landed in the middle of the road to transport the woman to Christchurch Hospital, where she underwent surgery on her leg and skull.


Caitlin and Lachlan were fortunate enough to reunite with the woman a week later at the hospital, where doctors believed that the wetsuit she was wearing at the time had saved her life.


The proper administration of first aid by the surf lifeguards was crucial; without it the woman’s condition might have worsened due to the remote location of the incident and the time it took for the ambulance to arrive. Additionally, the surf lifeguards effectively collaborated with Hato Hone St John, providing them with a comprehensive patient handover.