Head boy, athlete heroes of river rescue
When Jeremy McKenzie saw Marlborough Boys' College head boy Angus Pauley running near-naked beside a flooded river, he didn't realise Angus was trying to save a young girl's life.
''To tell you the truth, when I first saw Angus I thought the police must have been chasing him, and then I realised quickly that he was chasing a young girl in the river.''
Police have praised the actions of the two Blenheim men who put their lives at risk to save the 12-year-old girl, a year 7 Bohally Intermediate student.
Sergeant Mark Lucas said at a press conference in Blenheim today that the outcome could have been very different.
''Thankfully, as a result of the great work by Angus and Jeremy, we're not here discussing a tragedy, we're here discussing an event that had a very good ending,'' Lucas said.
''I think to put your own life at risk to save someone else's, when they're in perfect safety...definitely meets the criteria of hero in my books.''
Police talked to Bohally Intermediate students yesterday warning them of the dangers of flooded rivers.
''Anyone that's ever tramped or had anything to do with rivers, irrespective of how small, they know as soon as they're in flood they're incredibly dangerous as we found out today,'' Lucas said.
''If the river's in flood, you've just got to stay away and err on the side of caution, so we don't have a tragedy.''
The girl's father, Luke McIsaac said he had a ''bit of a panic attack'' when he heard his daughter almost drowned.
''I was just hoping it was okay, hoping she was good,'' he said.
He and his partner, Katie Broome , were grateful for the actions of Angus and McKenzie.
''We really can't thank you enough, from the bottom of our hearts,'' Broome said.
''We just don't have the words.''
They knew she would be okay when they arrived at the hospital and saw she had eaten the food in her lunch box, which was in her backpack when she got caught in the flood.
''We saw her smiling and saw she'd eaten her lunch, even though it was sopping wet,'' Broome said.
The 12-year-old had recovered and was doing well, they said.
She was eating biscuits and marshmallows and was watching movies at a friend's house.
Broome said she told them she had just been going the way she normally went to school.
''She loves school and absolutely loves her teacher, so she [wouldn't] do anything to [be] late,'' she said.
''In her mind, she was doing the right thing to get to school.''
Angus was in the car with his mum on his way to school when he saw a girl in the flood water below High St bridge.
The girl was in her school uniform trying to push her bike across a footbridge. She was wearing a helmet and had a backpack on.
The water was up to her waist, Angus said.
He got out of the car and went to the top of the High St bridge to get a better view.
"I yelled out 'are you OK?', and she said 'I need my mum'," he said.
"I knew there was something wrong, that she needed help."
He raced down the path to the river bank, but by the time he got there, the girl's bike was gone and she was being swept down the river.
Angus started running along the river bank next to her.
"She was screaming and I just kept talking to her saying 'don't worry, it's going to be OK, just keep your head up, keep breathing'," he said.
"She was just panicking and I could hear her gargling water."
He stripped down to his underwear and socks and raced down the bank as the girl was swept along with the current.
The river dipped, and the girl got sucked under.
"I just counted 'one, two', and then she popped back up again.
"She was just gasping and screaming and gargling water, I knew at that point something had to happen."
He was reluctant to jump in as he was alone and didn't want to also needing rescuing, he said.
He kept running and spotted a man, who turned out to be Blenheim multisport champion Jeremy McKenzie.
Angus yelled out to McKenzie, asking if he'd watch while he went in the water.
"He gave me the nod, so I went straight in to the water, swam over to her, lifted her up and made sure she was above the water," Angus said.
"She was quite tired after struggling in the river for so long."
McKenzie met the pair at the river bank, but as the girl grabbed on to him, the weight of her uniform and backpack pulled the trio back into the water, Angus said.
They managed to make it back to the bank, and McKenzie lifted the girl out of the water then Angus carried her up the bank as police arrived.
Both he and the girl were taken to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim.
He was grateful for McKenzie for coming to his aid.
"It was such a godsend to have him there," he said.
"You couldn't have had a better guy turn up."
Angus said he did what anyone would do.
"You don't really think, your instincts sort of just kick in," he said.
"If you're going to get in the water and do something like that you can't have a doubt in your mind, you've gotta just go for it. You do what needs to be done."
McKenzie said he did what he would hope others would do for one of his children.
The winemaker was on his way to work when he saw Angus running down the river.
"I saw this guy running along the river bank with no clothes on and wondered what was going. I thought maybe he was being chased by the cops," McKenzie said.
However, when he saw bystanders on the High Street bridge and pulled over he realised what was going on, and sprinted down the river and quickly caught up with Angus.
"I told him to jump in and grab her and I would go downstream and grab them both, he said.
"I knew there was a slower part of the river that had an eddy so we just needed to get her in there."
McKenzie sprinted downstream, jumped into the fast flowing river and grabbed hold of Angus and the girl. The two men then kicked into the eddy with the girl and got ashore.
"I got some water out of her by holding her over my arm and gave her a few whacks on the back, which got her to cough the water up," McKenzie said.
"Then we put her in the recovery position."
He was full of praise for Angus and the way he dealt with the situation.
"It was a real joint effort. People jumping into a river to save someone can go pear shaped, but Angus did really well," McKenzie said.
The whole ordeal was over in about five minutes, he said.
After the rescue McKenzie went home, had a shower and went to work.
TIME FOR A HUG: The emotion of the events shows as Angus Pauley and his mum hug. Photo: SVEN HERSELMAN/Marlborough Express
The Marlborough Express