Surf Lifeguards incredible Cyclone Gabrielle response recognised by bp

Tuesday, 28 March 2023

When Cyclone Gabrielle struck early on Tuesday, 14 February 2023, the Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue (SAR) Squad responded by heading to the Esk Valley and rescuing many people trapped by floodwaters.


Access to the valley was challenging due to the main roads being underwater. However, the Surf Lifeguards and other SAR partners managed to find alternative access to Esk Valley via Hill Road.


Lifeguards cautiously launched Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs) before working their way up the valley, where they found people who had climbed onto the rooves of houses to escape the rising water. Over the next five hours, the SAR squad rescued nearly 50 people and many beloved pets. The conditions were challenging with swift water, having to navigate amongst hazards and debris to retrieve patients from rooftops and return them safely to land.


After completing the Esk Valley rescues, the SAR Squad relocated to the Pakowhai area, where the Tutaekuri and Ngaruroro Rivers had breached their banks, inundating that area with fast-rising floodwaters. The squad found a safe staging area and quickly launched their IRBs. The Tararua SAR Squad also launched from the Hastings side of the Ngaruroro River to assist at the far end of Pakowhai Road.


That afternoon and evening, Surf Lifeguards assisted more than 190 people and many pets to safety in the Pakowhai area. The IRB crews rescued people and pets from rooftops and collaborated with other responders to coordinate and assist with helicopter rescues.


The Hawke’s Bay SAR Squad performed at an extremely high level in unprecedented conditions. The number of people they rescued that day is probably much higher, given their focus on returning people safely to land and immediately re-launching to save others, meaning not everyone had their names or details recorded.


bp Head of Country NZ, Matt Elliott, said: “This is the second month in a row that a flood response by Surf Lifeguards has won bp Rescue of the Month. Everyone at bp is proud to support Surf Life Saving New Zealand, their Surf Lifeguards and Clubs who responded to support their communities, when Cyclone Gabrielle hit. We have seen some remarkable footage of rescues and the response by the Hawke’s Bay SAR Squad and it’s great to see them acknowledged with this award. 


“The number of lives they saved in these conditions is incredible. bp has supported Surf Life Saving New Zealand since 1968, and this would have to be one of the largest mass rescue operations over those 55 years.”


Andy Kent, Surf Life Saving New Zealand National Lifesaving Manager, said: “The whole Surf Life Saving community is incredibly proud of the role Surf Lifeguards performed in the Cyclone Gabrielle response in Hawke’s Bay and other areas.


“The lifeguards in Hawke’s Bay displayed incredible execution of their training and skills in challenging and unprecedented conditions that were constantly changing. They responded quickly and displayed exceptional teamwork, coordinating rescues across numerous crews and working with other emergency services to save hundreds of lives. This response highlights the broad range of skills our Surf Lifeguards possess and the versatility of our equipment. This was an amazing effort by people who placed their community first, even when they were personally impacted by the floods.”


Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue Squad, the first-place winner of bp Rescue of the Month, will be recognised with $500-worth of bp gift vouchers and a framed citation.


Foxton SLSC and Spencer Park SLSC have been recognised for 2nd and 3rd place respectively in the February bp Rescue of the Month. Foxton will receive a $300 bp gift card and Spencer Park a $200 bp gift card. Both clubs will also receive a framed citation. Click here for full details on bp Rescue of the Month.