Rob Hewitt survives three nights lost at sea in Wellington - 150 years of news

Former navy diver Hewitt revisits the scene of his four-day sea ordeal in 2007 to mark the launch of his book, Treading ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Former navy diver Hewitt revisits the scene of his four-day sea ordeal in 2007 to mark the launch of his book, Treading Water.

A diver was beginning to decompose alive when he was rescued after three nights in the sea off Porirua's coast in 2006.

Rob Hewitt's epic endurance feat was "one of New Zealand's great survival stories", The Dominion Post said.

"Severely dehydrated, nibbled by sea lice, cooked by the sun and covered in boils, he was in bad shape, with his skin peeling off him but, nonetheless, miraculously alive after 75 hours of bobbing in the water."

Rob Hewitt, centre, the day after his sea ordeal ended on February 8, 2006, pictured with fiancee Rangi Ngatai and ...
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ

Rob Hewitt, centre, the day after his sea ordeal ended on February 8, 2006, pictured with fiancee Rangi Ngatai and brother Norm Hewitt.

Navy diver Hewitt proved even tougher than his brother, former All Black Norm, who famously captained the Hurricanes with a broken arm, the paper said.

Hewitt, then 38, was only 200 metres off Mana Island when he went missing after a day gathering crayfish on February 5. Separated from his fellow divers, Hewitt's hopes faded as night fell.

"From dusk, I watched the lights go on along the coastline, cars travelling to Wellington and back again at the end of the day. I realised what was most precious in life - family, fresh water and treating your body like a temple."

By day, Hewitt would see rescuers flying above him but they couldn't see him below. He drifted from just north of Mana Island to the eastern side of Kapiti Island and back again.

"For three nights and four days, he struggled to stay alive, eating the crayfish and kina he'd caught, offering up prayers to Tangaroa, God of the sea, and Tawhirimatea, God of wind and storms," The Dominion Post said.

"His training in search and rescue made him aware his lice-covered body had started to absorb saltwater and decompose."

Hewitt's mental health had also deteriorated, and he decided to let a nearby shark kill him if it approached him.

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"Shortly before he was rescued, he suffered wild hallucinations where he wandered ashore and into a shop for a can of coke, thrashing around in his wetsuit to find his wallet to pay for it. When he was found, he had thrown off parts of his kit in his delirium," the paper said.

Hewitt's family had already begun grieving when the navy dive squad rescued him at 4pm on February 8. He had lost eight kilograms was taken to hospital for surgery on his achilles tendons, which had been wounded by his flipper straps digging into swollen flesh.

Hewitt soon left the navy and wrote a book about his ordeal, then became a water safety ambassador and a life coach for young men.

"I'm a different person to what I was in the navy. I was a hard arse and then when the sun went down, I was the oldest teenager around," he told the paper.

"I've loosened up and I'm more confident about what I am able to do. I've learned more in the six years after my survival than the 20 years in the navy."

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The Dominion Post - 150 Years of News is available via dompost.co.nz or 0800 50 50 90.

Priced at $34.95 + $3 postage and handling or $29.95 + $3 p&h for subscribers.

 - Stuff

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