Far North surf rescue team honoured
With light fading fast, Far North lifesavers swam through pummelling waves and strong currents to save two divers stranded on rocks under the cliffs at Tapotupotu Bay, near Cape Reinga.
Thom Anderson, 30, student Anthony Walker, 17, and fellow life savers Tony Walker and Kate Clarke were 125km away in Ahipara when they got the call to help on March 9.
Light was fading and conditions were so dangerous that the Northland Emergency Services Trust rescue helicopter, police, search and rescue volunteers and Coastguard couldn’t get to the divers.
Walker and Anderson navigated three metre swells in poor visibility in an Inflatable Rescue Boat to reach the divers who were trapped for more than five hours.
But wild conditions held them back from the rocks and the pair faced a 100m swim in choppy waters. Walker, the youngest of the pair, dived into the water first.
‘‘I just thought, I’d go in first so Thom could stay on the boat. I had the fear if something went pair shaped it might jeopardise the whole rescue,’’ Walker said.
Walker secured the youngest diver and swam him back to the IRB. ’’When I clipped him on I was pretty relieved.’’
They returned the divers to the beach before 8.30pm, just as darkness was closing in.
Their heroic efforts were recognised as they won the Rescue of the Year at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards of Excellence.
The Far North’s Thom Anderson, a firefighter for the Ahipara Fire Brigade, said the rescue they were recognised for was one of the most challenging they had undertaken.
‘‘It was pretty choppy and big swells... but we just got on with it,’’ Anderson said.
For Anderson, rescuing people was good karma.
‘‘I guess I do it because I hope someone will be there when I get in the s***,’’ he laughed.
Walker said being a lifesaver was something special he could give back to the community.
‘‘I like helping people and seeing their reactions from people when we save them,’’ Walker said.
‘‘I’m going to stick with it for as long as I can. Being a life saver you end up being part of a really big family.’’
Far North Surf Rescue of the Year team. From left Dave Ross, Anthony Walker, Tony Walker, Thom Anderson and Kate Clarke with BP’s Haley Mahoney.