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Last gasp rescue from Wairarapa seas

by Nathan Crombie, Nov 14, Wairarapa Times-Age

A man swept from the reef at Castlepoint Beach was hauled bleeding and exhausted from huge seas after battling for an hour to reach the shore on Saturday. Rescue boats could not reach the 23-year-old man from Nelson, who had been eventually carried by the tide through The Gap in the reef, where a pair of onlookers dived into the frigid lagoon waters to help him ashore.

A crowd of up to 50 people joined firefighters, paramedics and police about 2pm on Saturday to watch from shore as two fishing vessels braved “nasty” swells in attempts to pluck the man to safety, said Castlepoint volunteer fire chief Anders Crofoot. “It was too dangerous for the boats to get too close to the reef but what they did was amazing all the same. Police called a helicopter because for a while it looked like it was going to be a search as opposed to a rescue,” Mr Crofoot said.

Rescuer Lawson Campbell, a Masterton teacher, had been watching the drama unfold alongside Castlepoint woman Louise Oakly and others at the southern end of the beach near The Gap. Soon after arriving at the spot the pair spied the man’s head bobbing in large waves beyond the lagoon, Mr Campbell said. “The guy raised both arms, signalling for help. When we got to him he was frozen like an ice block. He’d been out there for at least an hour and he was cold, really cold,” he said. The man had been with two friends when he was swept from the reef, Mr Campbell said, and both had screamed for him to head seaward and not risk being dashed against the rocks. “He did everything he was meant to do. He swam out to sea not in toward the reef and he didn’t stop fighting. That guy saved his own life,” Mr Campbell said. “He was dazed and very, very exhausted but really glad to have his feet back on the ground.” Ms Oakly said the waves were breaking about 5m above the reef when she saw the man struggling to stay with the incoming tide. “I stripped off and ran into the water. When I got to him, he made a joke about going back out and getting his Doc Marten boots – he’d thrown them off with all his clothes. “He was bleeding from cuts all over – his arms, legs, his ribcage – but he made it. I really thought he was a goner.”

An off-duty paramedic treated the man at the scene for hypothermia and gashes to his hands, arms, body and legs before he was bundled into several sleeping bags and taken to a waiting ambulance.

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