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We save lives

Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014
MAtthew Williams

TRAINING HELPS: Matthew Williams pulls Jamie Burnett from the water as James Campbell pilots the IRB during a rescue demonstration.

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Kiwis' carefree attitude towards a day at the beach needs to change, Surf Life Saving New Zealand says after yet more rescues.

Beach visitors have to take the same precautions as boaties, hikers and mountaineers, Northern Region Surf Life Saving portfolio manager Matthew Williams says.

"When you head up a mountain for the weekend you are not just going to chuck your pack on and go.

"You check the weather, the conditions, your equipment and you might call the park ranger," Mr Williams says.

"But this Kiwi laissez-faire attitude is ‘aww we are just going to go to the beach, it's fine and we'll jump in the water where we arrive' - and that is how we get into danger."

A classic case last Wednesday nearly saw lives lost in the Orewa Estuary, he says.

Two 14-year-old girls found out the hard way the estuary's still waters can hide strong currents.

"To the untrained eye it is a nice flat piece of water," Mr Williams says.

But on a low outgoing tide there is a lot of water moving through the shallow area.

"So what looks very safe is actually very dangerous and it would have been a 10 second conversation with the lifeguards to find that out," he says.

The two girls were walking in the estuary when the current dragged them out to sea.

Two boys saw them struggling and tried to help but soon all four were in danger.

They were spotted by lifeguard James Campbell from a patrol tower in the flagged area on a routine scan of unpatrolled beach.

He investigated on a quad bike and quickly called for backup before swimming out with a rescue tube to save one of the girls and the two young men.

The second girl was found face down, unconscious and unresponsive, by lifeguards Travis Salahub and patrol captain Nick Tomkins in an inflatable rescue boat .

She was brought back to life, then paramedics took over and she was taken to hospital.

Mr Tomkins says if the paid guards had not been on duty she would have died.

Every rescue the Orewa guards have done this summer has involved the estuary, he says.

Mr Tomkins has been patrolling the beach since 1995 and says most incidents happen in the estuary zone.

Orewa surf club chairman John Chapman says people going into the estuary only need to take a step too far to be swept away.

"Many jump off the jetty or bridge and people often take their little kids in there because it looks safe - but it's not on an outgoing tide."

The four patients are among 243 people rescued this season in the Northern Region.

Nearly 60,000 preventative actions, such as advising people where not to swim and giving safety tips, have been taken this summer, he says.

Beach visitors should check the findabeach.co.nz website for information about a beach's lifeguard patrols, hazards and where to swim.

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