The country's grim drowning statistics would probably have risen in Hawke's Bay at the weekend had it not been for a heroic rescue effort, police say.
Lucan Battison played a lead role to prevent up to three people being swept away - but the 14-year-old says that he just did what anyone else would have done.
"People have been congratulating me and stuff, but I don't really see why," he said yesterday. "I think everyone would do it, wouldn't they?"
The St John's College, Hastings, pupil and a group of friends helped rescue three young women who were swept out to sea by a a strong rip while swimming at Waipatiki Beach, about 40 kilometres north of Napier, on Saturday afternoon.
"A group of about 10 of us were sitting on the beach and this chick ran over and was like, ‘are any of you guys good swimmers? There's a group of chicks getting swept out'."
Lucan and his friend Callum Williams, 15, didn't stop to think before running into the 1.5-metre swell about 4.15pm.
"We just took off our tops and ran out there," Lucan said.
"I couldn't really do anything else. I wasn't just going to let them sit there."
What was going through his head in those frantic few moments? "Get to them, and get them to shore. And quickly."
Callum swam to the 21-year-old woman, who was furthest out, and helped her keep her head above water, while Lucan managed to reach the 16-year-old girl and pull her to shore.
Swimming was "near-impossible", he said. "It was real rough."
Lucan left the girl he saved in the care of his cousins on the beach, before plunging back into the waves to help his friends get the other girls - who were now wearing lifejackets - to shore.
"It was pretty frightening . . . they were half-dead."
A surfer and a kayaker had paddled out to give the struggling 21-year-old and her cousin, aged about 15, lifejackets, which made the mission to shore easier.
The 21-year-old, who was from Napier, was unconscious, so Lucan and Callum's mother, an off-duty nurse, put her in the recovery position.
"She was spitting out water. We let her do whatever she had to do."
Then he and his friends put all three girls on a trailer, and drove them back to his bach.
"We got some mattresses and blankets out on the lawn, and they lay there until the helicopter turned up.
"The oldest one couldn't really talk. She was just shaking and nodding her head."
She was taken by the Lowe Walker rescue helicopter to Hawke's Bay Hospital.
Hospital spokeswoman Chris Lord said she was discharged yesterday.
The other woman and the teenager were taken to hospital by ambulance but did not need medical treatment.
Having "grown up at the beach", Lucan said he had helped out "a couple" of struggling swimmers in the past, "but it's never been like that".
The rescue was a team effort, he said. "It was all of my mates, helping out."
Hawke's Bay police were full of praise for those who helped in the rescue effort, Senior Sergeant Mike Stevenson said.
"[Their] efforts in swimming out to them and bringing them back to safety are admirable . . . this is a story that could have ended tragically, but some heroic efforts have prevented that from occurring."
- The Dominion Post
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