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Rock rescue saves nine people in Whangamata

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A group of seven lifeguards from Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club saved nine people from a cold night stranded on an island off the coast of Whangamata during Easter weekend by performing a bold rescue in challenging surf conditions, potentially saving them from life threatening injuries in the process.

For their efforts, they have been awarded with the national BP Rescue of the Month award for March.

Each month, Surf Life Saving New Zealand invites clubs to submit their rescues to be judged for the title of BP Rescue of the Month which aims to recognise operational excellence by Surf Lifeguards around the country.

Pukehina and Mangawhai Heads Surf Life Saving Clubs were judged second and third respectively.

The daring rescue, performed at Whenuakura Island (sometimes referred to as Donut Island), on Saturday March 31, involved two BP Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs) and required a high level of skill due to the 1.5 metre swell and rocks around the island.

The crew, made up of Max Jones, Andrew Hodgson, Josh Kerridge, Brandon Dromgool, Mitchell Hohaia, Ben Goffin and Callum Fulton used a number of surf lifesaving techniques throughout the rescue including specialised rock rescue techniques.

Initially, Max and Mitchell were only conducting a sweep of the islands around Whangamata when they were alerted to six people stuck on Whenuakura by off-duty lifeguards Brandon and Josh.

Whilst, on some days, the inside of the island is calm and entry is possible in an IRB, on this particular day the 1.5 metre surge was passing through the entry of the islands meaning it wasn’t so simple.

Knowing that this rescue would require a number of additional assets, Josh and Brandon remained outside the entrance to the island while Max and Mitchell contacted the patrol to request the activation of the Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club Callout Squad before returning to the club to collect appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) for a rock rescue. At this point, both the Police and Coastguard were put on standby.

Once inside the island, the three lifeguards assessed the patients, who were distressed and were very aware that they would be unable to exit the island unassisted.

A plan was then formulated for the patients to be escorted through a secondary exit to the island, through a cave only about as big a person, pitch black and about 20 metres long.

The patients were brought through the cave where they would have to be transferred from the rocks, back into the water and into the waiting IRBs. One at a time, the patients were assisted from the rocks, into the water and towed about 25 metres to the waiting IRBs.

The patients were ferried back to shore where, apart from a few minor cuts and being a bit shaken up, they were deemed to be okay.

Max headed back out to the island to retrieve the remaining lifeguards when he noticed three more people in trouble on a rocky outcrop near where the original rescue took place. A similar process occurred, with lifeguards swimming all three patients off the rocks into the waiting IRBs and towing the kayak back to shore.

For their efforts, the club will receive a $500 BP gift voucher.

BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says the skills demonstrated by the lifeguards involved were outstanding. "Since 1968 we have been proud to stand behind this amazing organisation who educate people about how to stay safe on our beaches as well as helping save the lives of thousands of people every year," she says.

Pukehina Surf Rescue and Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service will receive $300 and $200 BP gift cards as second and third place winners respectively.

This concludes the BP Rescue of the Month awards for the 2017/18 season. For more information about BP Rescue of the Month please visit

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