Rescue from swollen river 'kind of fun'

00:39, Oct 17 2012
Car in Waimea River
TRAPPED: Four young people had to be airlifted to safety after their vehicle became stranded in the rising Waimea River at Appleby.

It's not every evening that you get airlifted off the roof of your car, says one of the four people caught in a river crossing that went bad near Nelson.

Ruane Kendrick, 19, and three of his friends were attempting to cross the Waimea River yesterday in a four-wheel-drive when the current caught them, stranding them in the middle of the river.

"The river looked pretty much all good - it wasn't too deep where we were crossing," Kendrick said. "We weren't aware of how strong the current was in the middle, though."

Vechicle stranded in the Waimea River
STILL STRANDED: The abandoned 4WD is still surrounded by water.

They had almost reached the other side when the current caught the front of the vehicle and pushed them about 80 metres downstream, he said.

As the water started coming in, Kendrick and friends Alec Breen, 17, Jess, 16, and Chris, 30, (surnames for both not available) climbed out through the windows and on to the roof.

Kendrick's mother, Liz Kendrick, said it was scary when she got a text saying they were stuck in the river.


STRANDED: It wasn’t safe for fire crews to carry out a line rescue to the youths on the 4WD.
STRANDED: It wasn’t safe for fire crews to carry out a line rescue to the youths on the 4WD.

"I didn't know which river - I was just waiting for another text."

She said it wasn't unusual for the group to go off-roading - they just misjudged the river after the amount of rain the region had received recently.

"What they had done before, they weren't able to achieve this time."

Kendrick said they were not particularly scared - rather, they were pumped with adrenaline and thought it was "kind of fun".

He didn't think any of them were really embarrassed about having to be rescued. "It's a good story to tell. I've never been airlifted off the roof of a car - it doesn't happen every Tuesday afternoon."

He said Breen was confident he would be able to get the vehicle, which he bought about two weeks ago, out of the river and back driving again.

Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter pilot Jared Colbourne said the helicopter was called out just before 7.30pm.

The vehicle was in the middle of the river, upstream from the Appleby Bridge, near the corner by the crusher plant, he said.

"The river was quite swift and deep. [Had the four tried to swim to safety], they may have got swept under some of the trees."

Colbourne said that while he had been called out to river crossings that went wrong before, he had never had to winch anyone off a car roof.

"It's usually out in the bush, not in the middle of town."

Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Ralph Lonsdale said the brigade often saw vehicles driving up or across the river. "You think, 'One day, one of them's going to get stuck'."

Because there had been a lot of rain in recent months, the river was higher than it would normally be at this time of year, he said.

Firefighters looked at the option of putting a rope around a rescuer to get to the vehicle, but decided that it would be safer to call the helicopter.

"You always want to have two vehicles if you're four-wheel-driving, so if something happens, you've always got that other option."

Other adventurous drivers have been caught out at the Waimea River.

They include two Nelson men who spent six hours trapped in their vehicle after it was swept away by floodwaters while they were driving along the north bank last year. They were rescued by a farmer's son in a kayak.

Another driver in a 4WD got out of his depth while trying to cross the river last November, and got stuck.

Those incidents prompted Tasman district harbourmaster Steve Hainstock to warn drivers about checking rivers before trying to cross them. "It's just not clever, but people do it," he said today.

Hainstock has a harbour patrol boat which can be used for rescues, but he said that sometimes, it was quicker to call the rescue helicopter. That decision was up to the police in charge of the rescue.

The river had a fair bit of current in it following the recent rain, and trying to swim to safety was not the best option, he said.

Fairfax Media