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Swimmers plucked from Kai Iwi Beach by rescue boat

Mike Tweed,
Publish Date
Wed, 7 Feb 2024, 4:36PM
Members of the call-out squad after Tuesday night's rescue. Photo / Shaun Libeau
Members of the call-out squad after Tuesday night's rescue. Photo / Shaun Libeau

Swimmers plucked from Kai Iwi Beach by rescue boat

Mike Tweed,
Publish Date
Wed, 7 Feb 2024, 4:36PM

Two swimmers have escaped by the skin of their teeth after being stranded near cliffs at Whanganui’s Kai Iwi Beach.

Wanganui Surf Lifeguard Service patrol co-ordinator Daniel Comp said they were alerted by police at about 6.55pm on Tuesday.

“Our call-out squad got activated well after patrolling hours,” he said.

“The information we had to go on was someone had entered the water and not come out.

“We were heading out there pretty fast, that’s for sure. We had to pass people coming through Mowhanau village and my son was out the window telling them to pull over.”

The squad was in the water by 7.10pm - “a really good response time”, Comp said.

A drone was used to locate the pair.

“That got us some really good footage. Initially, we were told there was only one person but it turns out there were two.

“They were stranded on the other side of the cliff. It was rough surf too, it was huge, so there was no way they were going to make their way back around without us providing some assistance.”

High tide was just after 8pm so the squad had to act quickly, he said.

“I think a local had even tried to paddle out with a board but it was just too dangerous.

“We put three lifeguards in an IRB [inflatable rescue boat] and it punched through some big waves. Within 10 minutes it was done.”

An ambulance crew was on the scene to conduct medical checks but there were no injuries.

Comp said the pair had been incredibly lucky.

“If the tide had come in fully, the only way out would be to try and climb up the cliff face, and we all know those cliffs are constantly eroding.

“It was getting dark too so we got there in the nick of time.”

This week’s rescue was very similar to an incident in 2018 when the service extracted a father and daughter from a cove at Kai Iwi during a king tide, he said.

On that occasion, it took three hours to complete the mission and the guards in attendance were awarded rescue of the year at Surf Lifesaving New Zealand’s awards of excellence.

“We have to remind people that around the cliff face, there is what we call a boundary rip - if you swim too close you’re going to get sucked in,” Comp said.

“When we got the initial information [for this week’s rescue], my first thought was ‘Oh, that’s not good’.

“The worst-case scenario is a drowning and a body recovery if I‘m being brutally honest.”

He said the service’s after-hours squad was “pretty much a 24/7 operation”.

“We have our patrolling hours but for anything else, whether it’s 1am, 2am, 6am, we can get a phone call and we’ll be deployed.”

The squad was also in action at the start of the summer season, rescuing a stranded jet skier from the Whanganui River.

Comp said there were around 35 rescues in Whanganui waters - 12 of which were after hours - over the holiday period and it had been one of the busiest seasons ever in terms of beach visitors “even when the beach is closed and the surf is rough”.

Last month there were three after-hours rescues at Castlecliff Beach in one evening, with one involving nine people.

“We understand that people have gone back to work so they might get to the beach at 6.30pm or 7pm.

“People we rescue the most are those that are swimming at our beaches for the first time, then young adults and children.”

The two people rescued on Tuesday were young adults.

Comp said counselling services were available to lifeguards.

“These guys have done a brilliant job this summer and have done so many rescues. I don’t think they have had time to sit down and digest it fully.

“People in senior leadership roles also talk to them to make sure they are fully supported.”

Mike Tweed is an assistant news director and multimedia journalist at the Whanganui Chronicle. Since starting in March 2020, he has dabbled in everything from sport to music. At present his focus is local government, primarily the Whanganui District Council.

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