Afghan war vet a lifesaver at the beach

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 07:50 03/01/2014

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He came to New Zealand for some R&R - but that has turned out to be "rescues amid rips" for an Afghan war veteran, who saved 10 people from drowning in five days at a notorious north Taranaki beach.

The latest rescue at the small coastal town of Mokau, 80 kilometres north of New Plymouth, came on Wednesday night when former Waitara man Wade McFarlane - on holiday from Australia - first used a boogie board to rescue two men and then a kayak to pull two more from the pounding surf after they became caught in a rip.

"It's not exactly the way I wanted to be spending the first day of the new year but it makes it a better start for them that we could save them," he said yesterday.

One of the men was airlifted to Taranaki Hospital by the Taranaki rescue helicopter while the other three were taken by ambulance.

All four, believed to be aged between 18 and 20, were treated and have since been discharged.

Mr McFarlane's brother, Hayden, said he and the 50 or so other people watching the rescue realised that without his brother's actions at least two of the men would have died.

"If he hadn't got there they were gone. I'd just arrived at the beach when it all happened. It was pretty serious. There were four of them in the water all with their arms up screaming at each other," he said.

It wasn't the first serious incident his brother had headed off.

On Saturday, the father of two was one of a pair of kayakers who helped six swimmers to shore after they became caught in a rip at the same place, near the Seaview Beach Camp.

But that rescue was a cakewalk compared to Wednesday's incident, said Wade McFarlane, an Australian Army Troop Sergeant, who served in Afghanistan in 2007. When the alarm sounded about 8pm, Mr McFarlane grabbed a lifejacket and a boogie board and ran into the sea, quickly assisting two of the men into shallower water and safety.

Unable to see the other two men, he swam back to shore, grabbed a kayak and paddled out to find them.

Mr McFarlane's son, Xavier, 8, watched his father paddle out through the waves.

"When he started going out over the waves I got scared because it looked like he nearly tipped over.

"I thought he might get stuck out there too," Xavier said.

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- Wellington

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