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A 9-year-old boy caught in pounding surf at New Plymouth's Fitzroy Beach was seconds away from drowning, says the man who saved him.
The drama has prompted calls for lifesavers to continue to monitor beaches for the remainder of the summer as families head to the water after school.
Nicholas Dunnet's saviour, New Plymouth man Mark Brough, described how events unfolded before his eyes about 4pm on Wednesday at low tide.
"It was amazing what happened. It was quite a drama," Mr Brough, a former East End surf lifesaver said.
The water was quite flat with small "dumpy waves". He was knee-deep in the water, keeping an eye on his two children boogie-boarding nearby.
"I said to the boy's mother ‘I can feel the current pulling me out'. It just changed in an instant. The waves grew from two-foot to six-foot high within the blink of an eye. And then I saw a big whirlpool."
Mr Brough and Nicholas' mother then realised the boy, who had been body surfing, had lost his footing and was unable to get back in. "The waves were massive and they were just dumping on him."
The mother screamed at Mr Brough that she couldn't get to him.
"I swam out to him. When I got to him he was pretty much exhausted. He was pretty much gone."
Mr Brough said as the waves smashed them he was able to hold Nicholas up out of the water while he stayed under.
"I said ‘just relax' and somehow I got him in just through perseverance and determination.
"On the beach he was really shaking like a leaf. He could easily have drowned. He was coughing and spitting and had swallowed a lot of water. I reckon in another minute he would have been gone."
Mr Brough said the power of the waves was frightening.
"I was actually that scared I reckon it was my adrenaline that saved him.
"The father came around last night to thank me and said his boy was still upset."
And just before that he had pulled a younger boy, aged 6 or 7, back into the beach after he put up his hand to signal he was in trouble.
Mr Brough said the incidents highlighted the lack of lifesavers on the busy city beaches during the warm summer afternoons.
"How come there are no patrols and no flags? With the surf lifesaving buildings there, everyone presumes it is a safe place to be."
One suggestion was that a lifesaver could use a beach buggy to parole the whole area from Waiwhakaiho to East End, he said.
Mr Brough also believes there should also be hazard signs up along the beach-front warning swimmers of major rips.
Nicholas' mother, Jana, said last night she and Nicholas, a confident swimmer, had a really rough night. Nicholas had nightmares and he no longer wanted to go into the water.
"I think it's important to raise awareness. It's a disgrace on a beautiful afternoon that there was not a single person [lifesaver] there."
Money should be found through the council to pay the $60 a day it would cost for two lifesavers for two hours after school, she said.
The money should be spent to save lives, which was more important than many other projects, Ms Dunnet said.
She and her husband, Brent, were very grateful Mr Brough was on hand. "We feel like we owe him Nicholas' life."
It was also important to make people aware how fast these things could happen, she said.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand regional manager Charlie Cordwell said he would be speaking to New Plymouth District Council staff. The exercise was a difficult balancing act, Mr Cordwell said.
"It's about them juggling funding and working with them to provide as many resources on the beach as possible," he said.
Council community development manager Leighton Littlewood said the council contributes $67,000 a year to Surf Life Saving NZ.
- Taranaki Daily News