Girl modest over saving drowning man in Wellington Harbour
A teenage girl who swam to save a drowning man in Wellington Harbour doesn't think of herself as a heroine.
The drowning man, who was still in a critical condition in Hutt Hospital's intensive care unit on Tuesday afternoon, was clothed but carrying no identification and police were unable to say how he got in the water or who he was.
He remained in a critical condition on Wednesday morning, having been transferred to Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit.
Payge Olds of Lower Hutt and her cousin Kelly McKay from Paraparaumu were widely praised for their efforts to save him after he called for help near Burdan's Gate, Eastbourne just after 10.30pm on Monday.
"I think the word heroine is an overstatement," Payge, 16, said.
The cousins were at the beach helping a friend with a stuck car when they were alerted to the man, struggling in the water up to 80m from the beach.
Payge rushed into the water to help him, without thinking of the danger to herself.
"When you're in the heat of the moment, you don't really get time to think about that sort of thing."
By the time Payge, who was guided by flashlight shone from shore, reached the man he was unconscious, she said.
"He was completely out of it. It looked like he was dead."
While she could keep the man's head above the water, she found she wasn't strong enough to swim him back to shore, so "yelled and screamed" for help.
Two men then swam out to help her and the three maneuvered the man back to the beach.
Fifteen-year-old Kelly then took charge, calling on her knowledge of first aid.
"As soon as they brought him on to shore I started CPR instantly. I've done a few courses. It's something that's good to know," she said.
The emergency services arrived on the scene shortly after, taking the man to Hutt Hospital.
While the attention they have received for their actions has been slightly surreal, Kelly dismisses any suggestion her and her cousin did anything extraordinary.
"We're just some average girls who just helped because we were there. It's what anyone would do."
Earlier, the man who alerted the girls told how he came to be on the beach.
Jon Derrick, 25, was walking along the isolated beach on Monday night trying to find his cellphone he thought he had left there while fishing earlier in the day, when he heard a voice calling for help.
"It sounded like more of a joke," Derrick said.
Then he heard "help" again and called 111 on his work cellphone.
"I wanted to go in but I didn't know if I could do it myself," he said.
The operator warned him only to go into the sea if he was confident he could return safely.
With a fisherman they used a torch to spot a man about 50 metres from shore.
Still on the phone he approached the two girls and an older man to ask for help before returning to the beach, by which time the man in the water could no longer be seen.
Derrick, who eventually saw ripples where the man was, shouted directions from shore as Payge swam out.
"She got hold of the dude. She was screaming she couldn't carry his weight."
Derrick – who by his own admission was "not a very good swimmer" – jumped in the water and swam out with another man.
"I was more thinking of the danger to the girl," he said.
By the time he got to the teenage girl, she was holding on to the now-unconscious man, whose head was below the water.
"I turned him upside down so his head was out of the water," Derrick said.
With the man's head resting on his chest, Derrick swam the 50m back to the beach with the two other rescuers helping on either side over jagged rocks, and eventually dragging him up the beach.
"It was certainly a lot harder than you would expect," he said.
They started CPR and resuscitation with prompts from the 111 operator. The teenage girl and her friend pumped the man's chest while he breathed into his mouth.
After about five minutes police arrived and took over, followed by the Fire Service and Wellington Free Ambulance.
Back at his job installing windows on Tuesday, Derrick was reluctant to think of himself as a hero.
"It's not really my thing to say," he said.
But he was quick to praise the actions of Payge.
"I spoke to her afterwards. I said 'f****** good effort."
If the man in the water survived, Derrick said he would visit him in hospital.
Police said the victim appeared to be of Indian descent in his mid-20s to 30s.
He was wearing a maroon short-sleeved polo shirt and black trousers.
Senior Sergeant Andrzej Kowalczyk praised the "extremely brave" people who swam out to save the man.
"They did an excellent job in very difficult circumstances and their efforts to enter the water to save this mans life were exceptional," he said.
Derrick later found his missing phone in his work van.
- The Dominion Post