Praise for boy's mystery rescuer

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012
 Anthony and LaVerne Clark
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
RELIEVED: Anthony and LaVerne Clark with children Aidan, 11, and Gabrielle, 4

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A Stoke family wants to thank a mystery hero who saved their young boy's life when he got caught in a rip at Tahunanui's back beach.

The near-tragedy has reinforced the Nelson Surf Life Saving Club's message advising people to avoid swimming near the Waimea Inlet and to stick to the front beach.

Anthony and LaVerne Clark, along with son Aidan, 11, and daughter Gabrielle, 4, were at the beach near Parker's Cove for their first swim of the year on Sunday at about 2.30pm.

Aidan had been in the water up to his waist, and was looking for shells. He dived down to grab some more, and when he surfaced he realised he had been caught in a rip.

He had tried to walk against the current and back into the beach, but the force was too strong.

Soon he was about 10 metres out from the shore, his feet no longer touched the ground under the water, and he realised he was in trouble.

Mr Clark, looking after Gabrielle on the beach, heard his son's cries for help and sprinted into the water to help him. He tried to pull Aidan back to shore, but the rip was too strong, and he also started yelling for help.

Mrs Clark had been walking the dog further down the beach, and when she came back to the area and saw Gabrielle unattended, she was initially angry until she realised what was happening in the ocean.

A man with shoulder-length, frizzy, blond hair who had been wandering along the beach until he heard Mr Clark's cries, ran into the water and pulled Aidan to safety, giving Mr Clark a chance to swim back on his own.

Aidan said after pulling him to the beach, the man disappeared.

"When I touched the sand again for the first time again I was just relieved. I was looking around and he was just gone, as soon as he had helped."

He wanted the man to come forward so he could thank him. "He's a hero," Mr Clark said, explaining the current had been "unbelievably strong", even for an adult. "If he hadn't jumped in it could have been a completely different story."

The man had saved two lives, he said. They had seen him walking on the beach in the past, walking a waist-high "rolly" dog, he said.

Mrs Clark said the man was incredible, and they wanted to thank him for what he had done. Other people on the beach had not understood what was happening, so his help had been invaluable, she said.

Aidan said his advice for other swimmers was to avoid going waist-high or even lower into the water, and to be aware of what the tide and current was doing.

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The experience had only put him off swimming at the beach, he said. "I love swimming, but in pools there's walls. At beaches there's none, absolutely none.

"I just don't want this to happen again, it's just too scary."

Nelson Surf Life Saving Club president Marcus Gardner said that area of the beach was dangerous, as it had a sudden drop-off near the Waimea Inlet that created a substantial current when the tide was coming in.

Signs warning people of this had been erected but they were removed as the beach eroded. The Nelson City Council had been told that this was an issue, he said.

He advised swimmers to stick to the front beach and said people caught in a rip should stay calm, call for help from those on the shore, and try to swim across the rip, parallel to the beach, if they are reasonably strong swimmers.

Nelson City Council network services executive manager Alec Louverdis said the council would look at putting signs at the back beach to warn of the hazard. If you know the identity of the mystery hero contact 03 546 2881.

- The Nelson Mail

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