An Afghan war veteran on holiday from Australia has saved 10 people from drowning in five days at Mokau's notoriously dangerous beach.
The latest dramatic rescue came on Wednesday night when former Waitara man Wade McFarlane 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.
Witnesses said the men would have drowned if not for Mr McFarlane's bravery.
The former Australian army troop sergeant, who served a tour of Afghanistan in 2007, told how he reacted when he saw four men battling the roiling seas on Wednesday night.
"The second two were about 100 metres out. I went straight to the one who wasn't wearing a life jacket. Then I went to the other guy.
"They were past the point of panic. They were exhausted. I calmed them down. I said ‘hold on and don't let go,' and paddled them back to shore.
"That took about 20 minutes because the sea was still pulling us out," he said.
One of the men was flown to Taranaki Base Hospital by the Taranaki rescue helicopter while the other three were taken by ambulance. All four, believed to be aged between 18 and 20 years old, were treated and have now been discharged.
Mr McFarlane's brother, Hayden, said it was clear to him, and the 50 or so other people watching the rescue, 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 Holiday Park.
But that rescue was a cakewalk compared to Wednesday's incident, he said. When the alarm sounded about 8pm Mr McFarlane, who is the son of New Plymouth district councillor Craig 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 the group had been using 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," he said.
Earlier this week Surf Lifesaving New Zealand club development officer Andy Cronin said if swimmers did find themselves caught in a rip, they should remain calm and raise a hand to alert lifeguards, and if possible try to swim parallel to the shore.
He said if anyone spotted a swimmer in trouble at an unpatrolled beach or after hours, they should call 111 and ask for police. "Lifeguards would much rather be called out 50 times for nothing than having someone hesitate and things end in tragedy."
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