Two men may be in line for a bravery award after rescuing a 12-year-old girl from the flooded Taylor River in Blenheim yesterday.
"Thankfully, as a result of the great work . . . we're not here discussing a tragedy, we're here discussing an event that had a very good ending," Sergeant Mark Lucas said later.
"I think to put your own life at risk to save someone else's . . . definitely meets the criteria of hero in my books." Police officials said yesterday it was too early to comment on whether 17-year-old Angus Pauley and winemaker Jeremy McKenzie would be nominated for a bravery award, but it would be considered.
Angus, the head boy at Marlborough Boys' College, was in the car with his mum on his way to school when he saw a girl in the flood water below High St bridge.
The girl was in her school uniform trying to push her bike across a footbridge. She was wearing a helmet and had a backpack on.
Katie Broome, the partner of the girl's father, said the year 7 Bohally Intermediate student was going the same way she went to school every day.
"In her mind she was doing the right thing by going the route she knows," Broome said.
Angus said when he saw the girl, she was waist-deep in water.
He got out of the car and went to the top of the High St bridge to get a better view.
"I yelled out ‘are you OK?', and she said ‘I need my mum'," he said.
"I knew there was something wrong, that she needed help."
He raced down the path to the river bank, but by the time he got there, the girl's bike was gone and she was being swept down the river.
Angus started running along the river bank next to her.
"She was screaming and I just kept talking to her saying ‘don't worry, it's going to be OK, just keep your head up, keep breathing'," he said.
"She was just panicking and I could hear her gargling water."
He stripped down to his underwear and socks and raced down the bank as the girl was swept along with the current.
The river dipped, and the girl got sucked under.
"I just counted ‘one, two', and then she popped back up again.
"She was just gasping and screaming and gargling water, I knew at that point something had to happen."
He was reluctant to jump in as he was alone and didn't want to also needing rescuing, he said.
He kept running and spotted a man, who turned out to be Blenheim multisport champion Jeremy McKenzie.
Angus yelled out to McKenzie, asking if he'd watch while he went in the water.
"He gave me the nod, so I went straight in to the water, swam over to her, lifted her up and made sure she was above the water," Angus said.
"She was quite tired after struggling in the river for so long."
McKenzie met the pair at the river bank, but as the girl grabbed on to him, the weight of her uniform and backpack pulled the trio back into the water, Angus said.
They managed to make it back to the bank, and McKenzie lifted the girl out of the water then Angus carried her up the bank as police arrived.
Both he and the girl were taken to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim and were released later in the day.
He was grateful to McKenzie for coming to their aid.
"It was such a godsend to have him there," he said.
"You couldn't have had a better guy turn up."
Angus said he did what anyone would do.
"You don't really think, your instincts sort of just kick in," he said.
"If you're going to get in the water and do something like that you can't have a doubt in your mind, you've gotta just go for it. You do what needs to be done."
McKenzie said he did what he would hope others would do for one of his children.
The winemaker was on his way to work when he saw Angus running down the river.
"I saw this guy running along the river bank with no clothes on and wondered what was going on. I thought maybe he was being chased by the cops," McKenzie said.
However, when he saw bystanders on the High Street bridge and pulled over he realised what was going on, and sprinted down the river and quickly caught up with Angus.
"I told him to jump in and grab her and I would go downstream and grab them both, he said.
"I knew there was a slower part of the river that had an eddy so we just needed to get her in there."
McKenzie sprinted downstream, jumped into the fast flowing river and grabbed hold of Angus and the girl. The two men then kicked into the eddy with the girl and got ashore.
"I got some water out of her by holding her over my arm and gave her a few whacks on the back, which got her to cough the water up," McKenzie said.
"Then we put her in the recovery position."
He was full of praise for Angus and the way he dealt with the situation.
"It was a real joint effort. People jumping into a river to save someone can go pear shaped, but Angus did really well," McKenzie said.
Angus' mother, Helen Pauley, said she thought the worst when she lost sight of her son. "At first I thought ‘good boy'," she said.
"Then I saw him running, and I couldn't see him. Then it goes from ‘good on him' to ‘no, this is my child now'." She was "hugely relieved" when she was told he was safe, she said.
"It's really good when they're helping someone, and that's the make of that man, he's always there to help other people."
- The Marlborough Express
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