'Cheeky' seal sparks helicopter rescue mission
A "naughty seal" with a "cheeky grin" was the culprit of the search for a missing swimmer in the cut on Thursday night.
Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter chief crewman Paul "Ernie" Bryant said after a thorough air and sea search for a swimmer, which started when a person on the Port Hills reported seeing someone waving for help, a seal was located watching the drama unfold.
"We saw a seal later up by the break water sitting on some rocks, just by himself with a cheeky grin on his face," Bryant said.
"Nah, not quite – but retrospectively, it all sounds like nothing and a waste of resources, but if people believe that they've seen somebody and it is somebody and you don't do anything then you're going to lose a life."
The person reported seeing a person missing at 7.30pm and spotters on load and boat crews, including from Nelson Surf Rescue, failed to find anyone by 8pm so a helicopter joined the search.
He said rescue crews could not fully establish if there was a person in strife or not, but generally, people in the water – especially in still water like that around the Port – remained visible.
"Generally people who are in the water and come into difficulty have a window of splashing around, which is usually around 10-15 minutes. So even if people are in trouble – and it's not rough sea in there – most people would be generally still quite visible, certainly from the air," he said.
He said rescue crews did not get frustrated with calls of the like, and treated them all exactly as if a person was missing in the water.
"You need to really be right on top of them and there's no mucking around.
"You're in the machine and start it off, there's no fluffing around at all because it's so time-critical – it can be the difference in two or three minutes that can be the difference in finding them and getting someone to them and not finding them at all."
Thursday night was the first in the Nelson Tri Club's season of sea swims, but the event was treated as unrelated as the club had counted 162 swimmers into and out of the water.