Award for 'tough' west coast rescue

SHAUN EADE
Last updated 10:43 15/05/2014

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Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service's rescue of 10 fishermen in April last year has been honoured by the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council.

The Port Waikato-based club was awarded a certificate of achievement at the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council Awards at Parliament on Tuesday.

It was the second major award the club has received after the rescue was named National Rescue of the Year at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards of Excellence last September.

Malcolm Beattie, president of Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service, said it was very special for the club to be acknowledged on a national stage.

''None of us, as volunteers, joined surf lifesaving for the awards but it is nice to be recognised by peer groups for the achievements that volunteers do.''

He said the rescue was one of the toughest in the club's 54-year history.

On April 1, 2013, their last day of service for the season, four lifeguards plucked 10 Korean fishermen from a rocky outcrop after the incoming tide left them stranded and facing big waves.

The lifeguards battled 3.5 to 4 metre swells to rescue the group - all men, aged 19 to 25 from Howick - who were fishing about 500m south of Sunset Beach.

Patrol captain Shane Edwards said once they swam the fishermen to a bay opposite the beach, the encroaching tide made it impossible to swim back to the main beach and the cliff behind them was too steep to scale.

''It was too big to drive a boat in because it was quite rocky in there, so we ended up calling in a helicopter to winch them off the beach where we had swam them back to.''

Nine lifeguards were involved in the rescue, either controlling from the tower, on the beach, or in the water.

The fishermen were unprepared for the conditions and Mr Beattie said if the lifeguards had not been there, there would have been deaths.

''If it had happened during the week and we were not there, how many would have drowned? Who knows? Not all of them would have survived, that is for sure.''

But he said his guards were well prepared for the rescue.

''The [fishermen] were about 800m offshore, there was a huge king tide, there was a howling wind and they were trapped and cut off from the shore amongst rocks which made it impossible for us to get boats into," said Beattie.

''It highlights the type of rescue we do on the west coast at Sunset Beach. A lot of our rescues are pretty dramatic.''

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- Waikato

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