Morrinsville teens pull group of men from river

Rescuer: I thought 'Oh nah, he's dead'

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 13:34 08/01/2014
Morrinsville teenagers
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

LIFESAVERS: Morrinsville teenagers Sam Cooper (white shirt) and Cam Bailey, both 19, rescued three men from the Ohinemuri River in the Karangahake Gorge.

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Sam Cooper doesn't think he's a hero, but if it weren't for him, a man would likely be dead.

Mr Cooper, 19, of Morrinsville, and his friend Cam Bailey, also 19, were making their way back from a New Year's Eve adventure in Whangamata on Saturday with Mr Cooper's girlfriend, Grace Henderson, when they stopped in the Karangahake Gorge for a look around.

While enjoying icecreams on the swing bridge, they noticed five men in the Ohinemuri River below.

Two were in an inflatable raft, while the other three were in the water.

"They were all yelling and screaming but we didn't really think much of it," Mr Cooper said.

"But then I heard them yelling ‘help' and we just ran."

Mr Cooper and Mr Bailey made their way down a steep bank to the river and pulled two of the three in the water to safety, but the third man had sunk to the bottom of the river.

When Mr Cooper stretched his arm out to reach the man, he realised he'd have to take a dive.

"It was pretty scary. I could see him face down on the bottom and I thought ‘Oh nah, he's dead. I don't wanna see this'."

The man was in his forties and "quite a big guy" but Mr Cooper persevered, he felt the adrenalin kick in and managed to lift him up just enough so his head was above water and Mr Bailey could drag him to safety.

By this time, Miss Henderson was on the phone to emergency services.

"He was unconscious so we put him in the recovery position and he just started vomiting up all this stuff."

By the time Mr Cooper reached the man, he had been under water for at least a minute.

"He's pretty lucky I think."

Neither of the teens have had any formal lifeguard training but Mr Cooper said they just felt they needed to do something to help.

"It was just kind of an impulse thing, I didn't really have time to think."

"It's an amazing feeling though. I've never really felt anything like it, you know, knowing that if I wasn't there, a guy might be dead."

But although the man could have died without their help, the boys don't think they are heroes.

"It was just right place, right time I guess," Mr Cooper said.

The rescued men, who live in Auckland, have contacted Mr Bailey and are arranging to meet them to say thank you as soon as their friend has fully recovered from his near-death experience.

The rescue was just one of a series in the water this summer.

Yesterday, a man in his thirties was pulled to safety and flown to Waikato Hospital after he nearly drowned in the sea at Whale Bay near Raglan.

St John Ambulance northern communications shift manager Norm Ngatai said the incident happened about 2.40pm. The man was initially assessed at the scene and was in a serious condition, but was later downgraded to moderate.

It is thought a member of the public pulled the man from the water.

And on Sunday, a jet-skier rescued two teenage boys from drowning at an eastern Waikato beach.

The two 15-year-olds had been swimming off Anzac Cove near Bowentown when they got into trouble about 5.30pm.

Senior Sergeant Rod Carpinter said that the jet-skier's actions saved the teenagers from disaster, as one of them was badly fatigued and struggling to stay afloat.

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Another man was rescued yesterday in the Karangahake Gorge. However, his injuries were caused by a nasty fall from his mountain bike, rather than a water-related mishap.

The man, who is in his 70s, suffered various injuries and was winched 110ft out of the bush.

He was taken to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition.

jenna.lynch@waikatotimes.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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