Swimmers rescued from Dunedin's Goat Island

FRANCESCA LEE, WILMA MCCORKINDALE, BEN HEATHER
Last updated 22:04 01/03/2013

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A surfer rushed to save a Dunedin teenager who almost drowned after she and several fellow students were caught in a rip.

The surfer was at Purakaunui-Goat Island inlet yesterday when the students got into difficulty in the surf in an area not patrolled by lifeguards. They were among a group of 80 Year 9 students from Columba College on a school trip to the inlet.

The surfer rushed to the girl's aid and lifted her onto his board. She was then flown to Dunedin Hospital with serious injuries, resulting from water inhalation and hypothermia. She and another girl were in a stable condition last night.

Seven teenage girls were taken to hospital after the incident. Four were taken by helicopter and three by road. Five were discharged last evening. Dunedin St John team manager Doug Third said the teen who almost drowned was lifted by the surfer on to his board.

The other students were rescued by two surf lifeguards who were also in a water rescue squad, he said.

When the call came in, the lifeguards had been setting up for the South Island IRB Championships at nearby Warrington beach, and were able to send a boat out quickly.

“We just grabbed a boat and blew it up and they just took off," Surf Life Saving New Zealand's Otago-Southland club development officer Steph Laughton said.

Two boats carrying four crew members went to the rescue.

Arthur Ibbotson, 18, was one of the lifeguards.

"They were about 2km away from us so we had to drive up (in the boat)," he said.

He was in the second boat that reached the pupils by which time most of them had been recovered by the first boat. He helped administer first aid to a group of 20 girls on the beach, many of whom were suffering hypothermia.

"They were all pretty stress and upset on the beach because they just couldn't get to shore by themselves," he said.

About 20 other girls were in the water and trying to hold on to what seemed to be the blown up inner tube of a tyre, he said.

SLSNZ southern region manager Stu Bryce said it was fortunate the crews were working nearby.

"Yes, we were out there setting up gear. They were very lucky.”

Conditions at Purakaunui were pretty calm, Mr Bryce said.

“There was an outgoing tide but there was a reasonable swell.”

Local beaches were good for swimming.

“But beaches should definitely be treated with care. Conditions can change quickly”

Mr Bryce said it was better to swim between the flags at beaches where life guards were on duty.

"They were swimming as a group, which was a good aspect.”

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Columba College Board of Governors Chairman Tony Sycamore said the school would be offering counselling and support to the pupils and their families.

"Today I have just been so proud of the teachers and the Year 13 girls who were helping and supporting, and the Year 9 girls as well, he said.

"We're happy to report that everyone is safe. We are lucky that when the girls returned most of their parents were here and we were able to gather them in the sports centre to update them. We are doing everything that we can to support the girls and and their families and the parents that were involved."

A parent of one of the children on the outing did not know how many teachers were supervising at the time.

"We've had a wee bit of an anxious wait this afternoon."

But she said the college had handled the matter "really well".

St John was alerted to the incident at 1.52pm and sent two ambulances and one helicopter to the scene.

The Fire Service and the Coast Guard also attended.

- Stuff

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