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Lifeguards pull three from Bethells Beach rip, and help with badly broken ankle

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Off-duty lifeguards who rescued three people struggling in the water at Bethells Beach also helped another two out of the water, and tended to a badly broken ankle, and have now been recognised with third place in the national BP Rescue of the Month.

On the afternoon of March 26 a group of friends and family were visiting the West Auckland beach to walk a coastal trail when one broke his ankle badly, jumping over a creek.

While the group waited two hours for the ambulance to reach the remote coastal community, Bethells Beach Surf Lifesaving Patrol senior lifeguards Jimmy Kendrick and James Lea arrived, as locals had let them know someone was injured on the track.

With their patient propped up next to a bridge over the creek they assessed the injury and kept the patient calm. As a professional paramedic, Jimmy was able to straighten the broken ankle to provide pain relief and improve circulation, and once the ambulance arrived, he was able to give the man pain relief before he was taken to hospital.

Soon after this, Jimmy was about to go out for an after-work swim, when he spotted two people in the water drifting out to sea in a rip.

He asked a man on the beach to stay and watch while he swam out to check on them, and to get help if he raised his arm to signal.

When he arrived at the swimmers it was clear they needed help, so he signalled back to the beach. The swimmers were distressed, and being pulled further out to sea by the rip, but quickly exhausting their energy trying to fight the strong current.

The helper watching for the signal ran down the beach to find a phone to raise the alarm, and a local directed him to Surf Life Saving Northern Region’s operations manager Alan Gibson, who was in the area. Alan called the event in to Tara Coe at SurfComm, the rescue communication coordination centre for Surf Life Saving Northern Region, who sent the Bethells Beach SLSP Call-Out Squad, and liaised with police.

In the water Jimmy calmed and encouraged the man and woman, and asked them to conserve energy and stay afloat by laying on their backs, while he held a wrist each to tow them both backwards. To escape the rip, over 20 minutes he gradually swum them at right angles to the rip’s pull, so he wasn’t fighting it directly.

He was able to signal a man coming out for a surf, who came to help, and together they put the weaker swimmer on the board, which the surfer pushed back to the beach, with Jimmy towing the other swimmer in.

Call-Out Squad patrol captain Pia Harpour arrived at the Bethells Beach SLSP watchtower and began directing the arriving lifeguards and communicating with SurfComm. Lifeguard Dean Maddaford brought the IRB out and headed to the beach with first aid gear, with Alan, who relayed information.

As Jimmy and the surfer neared the beach with the first two swimmers, two other bystanders who had been at the beach took rescue boards, and tried to reach Jimmy to help. And another woman also entered the water to go for a swim. But all three were also sucked out into the rip.

Jimmy handed the first two swimmers over to Dean’s care on the beach, took a rescue board, and went back out into the water to give directions to help the two men on rescue boards to get out of the rip, and paddled the last woman swimmer back to shore with his board.

All five of the people rescued or assisted from the water were fine. One of the first two swimmers was treated for mild hypothermia by the lifeguards, but all were able to go home.

The man who helped raise the alarm when Jimmy signalled from shore, and the two swimmers in trouble were both part of the group who had called for help when one broke their leg. He has since been in touch with the club to thank Jimmy and the team for help in both situations, and says without their help it’s likely not everyone would have made it home that day.

Jimmy agrees the situation was dire, and lives could have been lost if he and the team had not been there to respond to the situation outside patrol hours.

"Conditions that week were deceptively dangerous, because it was calm surf, making it seem more appealing to swimming, but the rip was right in the middle of the beach, and people would get sucked out to sea, he says.

"People caught in rips make up 80 percent of Surf Life Saving NZ rescues, they’re really dangerous. It’s important to know how to spot one, and to know how to get out of one."

Third place in the BP Rescue of the Month was awarded to all the lifeguards who had a hand in the rescue of the swimmers: Jimmy Kendrick; Pia Harpour, Dean Maddaford, James Lea, as well as the SLSNR Staff who assisted: Alan Gibson and Tara Coe.

First place in the national BP Rescue of the Month was awarded to lifeguards from Orewa SLSC, who carried out an IRB rescue to pull a mother and son, and their two dogs, out of a rip. Second place was awarded to lifeguards from Pauanui SLSC, whose first aid helped when two teens were injured in the water.

BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says the skills demonstrated by the teams in the March rescues were outstanding.

"BP has been in partnership with Surf Life Saving New Zealand for 51 years and we are incredibly proud to support their heroic efforts in keeping New Zealanders safe.

"This rescue is yet another example of the huge difference Surf Life Guards make on beaches all over the country."

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