Hero cop res­cues three girls at lake

Bush Telegraph - - Front Page - By ANNA LEASK

When off-duty po­lice of­fi­cer Wayne Chur­chouse locked eyes with the pet­ri­fied child in the wa­ter, he knew in­stantly some­thing ter­ri­ble was hap­pen­ing.

He was pad­dle-board­ing near Ro­torua on Sun­day when he chanced upon three girls he ini­tially thought were play­ing.

“As I came up, the old­est one looked me straight in the eye with ab­so­lute fear in her eyes, then she screamed out ‘help’,” he said.

The senior con­sta­ble and youth aid of­fi­cer from Dan­nevirke was off Boyes Beach on the shore of Lake Okareka.

He no­ticed the girls as he re­turned from deep wa­ter to the edge of the area where peo­ple were swim­ming.

“The youngest was about 7 and the old­est about 9.

“I thought they were just play­ing, they were bob­bing up and down and the youngest was climb­ing onto the old­est.”

Chur­chouse didn’t hes­i­tate — he dived off his board and plucked the girls from the wa­ter.

All three had gone un­der by the time he got to them.

“I had to reach down un­der the wa­ter and bring them back up,” he ex­plained.

Chur­chouse helped the trio to shore and made sure they were okay.

“They were cough­ing and splut­ter­ing but they were talk­ing, they were all good,” he said.

Once they had caught their breath the girls ran off into the crowd on the beach — as­suredly to find their fam­ily.

Chur­chouse said the beach was packed and he did not see who the girls were with.

He said the wa­ter im­me­di­ately off the beach was shal­low, but the lakebed dropped quickly at a cer­tain point. He found the girls just past it.

“There were peo­ple all around them, the clos­est was about 5m away but no one else no­ticed,” he said. “They were very lucky.”

Chur­chouse shunned talk of brav­ery or hero­ics.

“I’m not that much of a hero — it wasn’t that much of a drama,” he said.

“I’m just a good Samar­i­tan, it’s just what you do — you get in there, hu­mans need to help each other out.”

Over the years he has res­cued “quite a few” peo­ple from the wa­ter — in­clud­ing his own son.

The pair were swim­ming near Maketu a few years back when trou­ble struck.

“My son was about 10 at the time. There was a quite a big lady be­ing sup­ported in the wa­ter by her part­ner, they floated down and then she got swept away from him.

“She was try­ing to grab any­thing she could find — and she found my son. She was pan­ick­ing, she tried to climb on top of him.” Chur­chouse swam out to help and faced a dilemma — who to save?

“I was think­ing, do I save my son or help her?” he re­called. “My son could swim so I made sure he was on his way back safely and then I took her in.” Chur­chouse said he would al­ways go straight in to help some­one in trou­ble in the wa­ter. “It’s not scary, I’m very con­fi­dent in the wa­ter and I guess I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie.” The po­lice­man also made head­lines in 2014 when he res­cued a teenage boy from a cave.

He was lead­ing a camp of atrisk teens when one fell down a bank.

Chur­chouse had to scram­ble down and nav­i­gate a 4m drop to reach the in­jured child. Manawatu Area Com­man­der In­spec­tor Ross Gran­tham ap­plauded Chur­chouse’s ef­forts. “Wayne epit­o­mises the po­lice core val­ues although it’s not just about be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer — he’s a great mem­ber of the com­mu­nity and a great father — look­ing out for his chil­dren as well as oth­ers,” he said.

‘‘It’s just what you do . . . hu­mans need to help each other out’’

“This in­ci­dent could have re­sulted in three young lives lost with­out Wayne’s in­ter­ven­tion.

“Wayne has been in­volved in four wa­ter res­cues, in­clud­ing this one, all of which have been off-duty.”

Chur­chouse urged any­one near the wa­ter this sum­mer to be vig­i­lant and keep an eye on fel­low beach­go­ers.

“I’m a po­lice of­fi­cer so it’s my pro­fes­sion to be vig­i­lant and ob­ser­vant,” he said.

“My mes­sage is for ev­ery­one to be ex­tra-vig­i­lant, keep an eye on each other, es­pe­cially young chil­dren, even if they can swim, be­cause it’s the peo­ple who can’t who try and climb onto them.”

Wa­ter Safety New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Jonty Mills said drown­ing re­mained the num­ber one cause of recre­ational death and the num­ber three cause of ac­ci­den­tal death in New Zealand, with 92 fa­tal­i­ties in 2017.

Dan­nevirke’s Senior Con­sta­ble Wayne Chur­chouse (below) knew some­thing ter­ri­ble was hap­pen­ing at Lake Okareka, where he’s pic­tured in black shorts on the day of the res­cue.

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