bp Rescue of the Month - 2023/2024 April Winners

Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) would like to congratulate the winners of the 2023/2024 April 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 April, surf lifeguards around the country responded to a range of incidents, including those at Whangamatā Surf Life Saving Club and Nelson Surf Life Saving Club.


Steve Fisher, SLSNZ CEO, said, “Congratulations to both clubs and their Search and Rescue (SAR) squads, who showcased incredible skills and bravery during both incidents. 


“There’s no off switch for surf lifeguards, and both these incidents showed that.  Without surf lifeguards to call on, there could have been very different outcomes in both situations.  Both squads acted quickly and professionally, working seamlessly with other emergency agencies to ensure the best result – getting everyone home safely.”


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.


Haley Mahoney, bp Head of Country, said, “Congratulations to the April winners of the bp Rescue of the Month.  Although summer may now be a distant memory, surf lifeguards are still busy as their crucial work extends beyond the warmer months.  Managing this responsibility is no small task, and bp is proud to support them on their mission to ensure everyone who goes to the beach returns home safely.”


Please note that there is no Northern Region or Central Region 2023/2024 April recipients as no nominations were received.



Eastern Region bp Rescue of the Month


Winner:  Whangamatā Surf Life Saving Club


Andrew Hodgson, Danielle Ellery, Jeff Pinhey, Kevin Thorborn, Marcia Graafhuis, Tracey Cameron


On 16 April, 2024 one of the Coromandel Peninsula’s most popular tourist attractions was the location of yet another rescue after three waka ama crews found themselves in trouble.


Shortly after 10am, Police tasked the Whangamatā SLSC Search and Rescue Squad and Coastguard to help assist 16 people stranded on Whenuakura Donut Island.  They had paddled into the island’s lagoon where the waka ama had broken up.


Andrew Hodgson, Whangamatā SAR Squad Co-coordinator, said, “We deployed an Inflatable Rescue Boat with three crew members and made our way to the island.  When we got to the entrance of the lagoon, there were some big swells coming in.  We quickly assessed the patients who were in good spirits – just cold and wet.  Thankfully, no one was injured.”


The surf lifeguards carefully transported the patients out to a waiting Coastguard vessel, who then took them back to Whangamatā wharf.


One of the waka ama was able to be towed back to shore by Coastguard; however, the other vessels remained inside the island until a week later when the Whangamatā SLSC Search and Rescue Squad, Coastguard and the Waka Ama went back to the island to collect the remaining debris.


Coastguard Whangamatā Duty Officer Ross Falconer: “It was a fantastic result highlighting the great collaboration between Coastguard and SLSNZ both on and off the water. With everyone wearing lifejackets, we were quickly able to get all 16 ashore and get them warmed up with blankets and a hot drink at our base.”


Surf lifeguards from Whangamatā SLSC have seen an uptick in rescues at Whenuakura Donut Island in recent years, with at least 16 incidents during the 2023/2024 patrol season.


Hodgson said this incident serves as a reminder to not underestimate the conditions.  “Reading the conditions can be difficult, and things can change very quickly.  In this situation, it might have looked good from shore, but a metre easterly swell does push into the lagoon, and as the entrance narrows, the swell gets higher.”


It also highlighted the incredible skill and technique required for such a complex rescue.  The surf lifeguards involved had to remain levelheaded and make quick but well-informed decisions to ensure the best outcome.  They had to navigate the island’s tricky entrance, watch for debris and swells, and work effectively with other agencies.



Southern Region bp Rescue of the Month


Winner:  Nelson Surf Life Saving Club


Jayd Cosmatos, Aaron Coe, Brittany Spencer, Courtney Moir


On 26 April, around 1pm, the Nelson SLSC Search and Rescue (SAR) team was alerted by the Police about a father and son who had fallen out of their kayak in Nelson Harbour.  The pair were wearing lifejackets, but conditions were freezing with strong north-westerly winds and a relentless outgoing tide.


As they were quickly being swept out to sea, the father thankfully managed to grab onto a mooring with one arm while clutching his son with the other.  The Nelson SLSC SAR team quickly arrived, as many of them were at the base preparing to head away on a training exercise when they were alerted to the incident.  The surf RIB was launched within minutes and was navigated with skill and precision to reach the pair, who were suffering from shock and early stages of hypothermia.


They were brought back to base, where a waiting ambulance assessed them and transported them to hospital.  This rescue highlights how vital continued training is for the SAR squads, enabling them to navigate strong tidal conditions and winds.  The team also demonstrated the importance of seamless communication and support during the incident.