Are we going to die, asks son

SAFE: Bridget Freeman-Rock and Lief Rock were rescued from the surf at Mangakuri Beach, Central Hawkes Bay.
JOHN COWPLAND/ Fairfax NZ

SAFE: Bridget Freeman-Rock and Lief Rock were rescued from the surf at Mangakuri Beach, Central Hawkes Bay.

The rip was pulling them rapidly from shore and waves were crashing over them when 10-year-old Lief Rock turned to his mother and asked if they were going to die.

Lief had been swimming in the shallows off Mangakuri Beach, on Hawke's Bay's eastern coast, on Thursday evening. He and others had gone for an after-dinner swim.

Bridget Freeman-Rock noticed Lief, the oldest of her three children, had ventured out to waist depth.

"I said, 'You have to come in'. He said, 'I can't'. I knew I had to reach him.

"So I plunged in, knowing I was going into a rip. And I'm not a terribly strong swimmer, but what else was I going to do? I wasn't going to let him get swept out in front of my eyes," she said yesterday.

The pair were quickly dragged out to sea. They were not touching each other, but were near enough to speak.

"It was the most frightening experience. The waves were really big. This was a fierce, powerful ocean we were in," she said.

She estimated they were taken about 500 metres from shore.

"At one stage, Lief said, 'mum, are we going to die?' There was definitely the sense that this was it . . .

"I said, 'We just have to stay calm and try to swim to the side', but all we could do really was keep our heads above water. These waves, which seemed gigantic, were breaking over us.

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"Then we got separated and I couldn't see him any more. By that stage I was exhausted.

"I'd actually thought, 'He's gone'. In the end all we could do was just surrender to the ocean.

"I think that's what helped us. You go through the gamut of emotions. First there's this panic, and you're gasping and thrashing about and thinking, 'Oh my god I have to get out of this', but then you're just forced to give in, and it stops being about getting to shore, or swimming out of the rip, and just about staying buoyant."

She recalled thinking, "OK, so this is drowning" and "a feeling of total surrender as the ocean pushed me at will".

"I knew there wasn't a boat or life guards coming. Then I saw him, about 10-20 metres from me. He said, 'I'm going to survive' and he just started swimming to shore."

Freeman-Rock, 35, said it appeared they had entered a current that was flowing back to shore.

"It may have been a tidal thing, I'm not sure, but we were very lucky the sea chose this time to give us back."

Lief was able to walk back to their rented bach at Mangakuri, about 25km east of Waipawa, but Freeman-Rock was unable to walk and had to be helped to shore. "I'd swallowed a lot of saltwater, and was vomiting profusely. It wasn't a pretty picture, no doubt."

Both were suffering from hypothermia. They were flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital by the Lowe Corporation rescue helicopter.

Lief was discharged on Thursday night, and Freeman-Rock yesterday morning.

The Hastings family were at the beach for a short holiday and had rented a bach with friends. They were back there again yesterday.

"It's lovely here. We want to finish our holiday."

 - The Dominion Post

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