A mystery kayaker is being hailed a hero after helping pluck three holidaymakers from a rip that swept them out to sea off Oakura yesterday afternoon.
The man left the scene soon after delivering the trio to safety but onlookers said without his help the incident could have ended tragically. He had been paddling in the light conditions when he spotted the swimmers in difficulty.
Tairua teenager Drew McCartie, 15, who is a trained lifeguard and also helped with the rescue, said the man paddled off as soon as he knew they were out of harms way.
The drama began about 3pm.
Wainuiomata youngster Luke Sanders, 11, watched anxiously from the beach with his mother, Janine, and sister, Sarah, as matters went from bad to worse.
"My brother and his girlfriend had gone out for a swim and they got caught in a rip, then dad went in to save them and he got caught too," Luke said.
The lone kayaker paddled to the rescue and had the teenagers, Cory Sanders, 17, and friend, Carol, 16, hold on to the kayak before jumping out and swimming Mr Sanders to safety with the aid of a lifejacket.
Onlookers said the father was struggling to stay above water.
"If the kayaker hadn't have come along they would be dead, the father was really exhausted when he got to shore," one said.
Other people spoken to on the beach said they had no idea anything was wrong because others closer to the water's edge did not raise an alert.
"We thought we heard someone yell `help' but when we looked there was an English couple standing right in front of them and they weren't giving any signals so we didn't really know what was going on," a man said.
"It wasn't until the second or third take that we realised they were in trouble. I don't know why the couple didn't do or say anything."
The three were taken to Taranaki Base Hospital and were discharged early last night, Taranaki District Health Board spokeswoman Sue Carrington said.
Constable Dean Sharrock said it was the typical story of children getting stuck in rip, someone going to help and then getting stuck themselves.
While some New Zealand beaches use Labour Weekend as a starting point for patrols, Oakura patrols, like the rest of Taranaki, do not start until December, the president of the Fitzroy Surf Lifesaving Club, Todd Cations-Velvin said. "We won't open the patrols until the water gets warmer."
Meanwhile, a Christchurch man who tried to help two stricken whitebaiters on the West Coast is presumed to have drowned.
Constable Paul Gurney, of Franz Josef police, said the 76-year-old man tried to help the two men after they were knocked over at the mouth of the Okarito River at 9am yesterday.
"The two men had lost their balance in the current and he's swum out to give assistance," Gurney said.
The man, who did not know the two men, did not reach them and slipped under the water, Mr Gurney said.
- Taranaki Daily News
The lower drink-driving limits from December are:Related story: Drink-drive limits lowered