Surf Lifeguards’ Heroic Roadside Rescue

Monday, 30 October 2023

On a picturesque Sunday, two United North Piha surf lifeguards, Jessika Wanden-Hannay and Abby Ferguson were driving home to Auckland’s wild west coast.


They were reflecting on the past couple of days in the Far North, where they had been competing at the 90-Mile Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) Race, completely unaware that they were about to save a life well away from the red and yellow flags. 


Their easy flowing conversation soon came to an abrupt halt when they came across a man lying in the middle of the road, unconscious.  He’d been pulled from the car after suffering a medical event and rear-ending the vehicle in front of him.


Jessika remembers, “It was clear the man was in a dire situation, and I was acutely aware that the odds of out of hospital resuscitation weren’t great.”


Without hesitation, the pair leapt out of their car and swung into action.  After establishing that no one else at the scene had medical training, Jessika took over CPR while Abby wasted no time in ensuring the safety of the group by directing traffic. 


“Performing CPR in the middle of the road is a very vulnerable place to be, but I had total confidence Abby would ensure that no vehicles would come through and put us in harm's way.”


Jessika worked hard to get the man breathing. “I gave CPR my all but by no means was I expecting a positive outcome. Even while performing CPR, I was mentally preparing for the worst. I could hear a bystander on the phone to his wife, and my heart just about broke thinking of his family and kids.”


Shortly after starting CPR, United North Piha surf lifeguard Bronte Reilly, who was also making her way home, chanced upon the scene, providing additional scene management while Abby called 111.


A defibrillator was found at a nearby petrol station and was quickly applied to the man for analysis.  Jessika then delivered a shock before resuming CPR.


After approximately 10 minutes, the man started breathing on his own.


“Even once he'd started breathing again, I knew we weren't out of the woods yet.  Ten minutes is a long time to be down, and I knew the risk of rearrest was high.”


Thankfully, Police, Fire and Emergency, and an ambulance shortly arrived and took over the man’s care.  Jessika made sure to find the person who had initially begun CPR, ensuring he could see that his efforts weren’t in vain – the man was now breathing and alive.


He was taken to Kaitaia hospital before being helicoptered to Auckland Hospital and is now on the road to a full recovery. 


“Afterwards I felt pretty overwhelmed.  It was such an unexpected event and a lot to process. Cyclone Gabrielle taught me the fragility of life, and this incident only reaffirmed it. It highlighted the importance of doing the things you've always dreamed of, as repetitive as it sounds, life truly is too short.”


It also highlighted how lucky Jessika is to have an incredible set of skills available to her, which she’s learned after years patrolling the rugged Piha coastline as a surf lifeguard. 


“I've been fortunate enough to receive a wide variety of training ranging from first aid courses to more recently going on a swift water rescue course. It all plays a massive role in preparing you for emergency situations and gives you the confidence to do your best in high pressure situations. It means you know more or less what to do, and regardless, you know there's a community of surf lifeguards who are there to support you.” 


Jessika encouraged anyone thinking about becoming a surf lifeguard to give it a go.  Not only do you form enduring friendships, but, as Jessika has learnt time and time again, you develop skills that could save someone’s life, even when you are miles away from the red and yellow flags.