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Harbour rescue a wake-up call, says police lifesaver

Harbour rescue a wake-up call, says police lifesaver

A police constable who led the rescue of two 11-year-old boys and a 31-year-old man from heavy seas in the Bay of Plenty says the incident demonstrates the need for all water users to be alert for the dangers around our coasts.

Constable Dean Oswald - who has been involved in surf lifesaving since childhood - stripped to his underwear and plunged into Ohiwa Harbour to reach the boys, who had got caught in a rip, and the man who had got into trouble while trying to save them.

He praised another man and a 19-year-old who arrived at the beach with lifejackets and waded out behind him to aid the rescue. They reached one child and Dean reached the other, then the pair escorted the boys to shore while Dean swam out further to reach the man.

Dean said: "One of the boys said 'My uncle, my uncle' and I saw him further out, lying face-up with waves breaking over him. He was conscious but I'd say pretty close to going under. It took about 15 minutes to pull him back to shore - every time a wave came I said to him 'close your eyes, close your mouth, we're going under'."

Once ashore the three were picked up by helicopter and taken to Whakatane Hospital. One boy was kept in overnight but is understood to be recovering.

Dean said: "This was just an evening swim for these kids and shows how quickly things can turn around. It was a fantastic result but I see this as a wake-up call - we get way too many drownings every year."

He said the sea was rough with waves more than a metre high. It is estimated the boys and the uncle were in the sea for around 40 minutes.

Dean was attending a public policing event at Ohope Fire Station when the call came in about 7.50pm yesterday (Weds 2 January). Amid initial uncertainty about the exact location of the swimmers, Dean dispatched his colleague Constable Adam Keno in a car to the Ohiwa side of the harbour while he set off along Ohope Beach on a quad bike.

Near Ohope golf course he was flagged down by a frantic woman and a group of children. Climbing on the quad bike, he saw one of the boys in the water had raised an arm for help.

He said: "I've got to give credit to those two 11-year-olds - to have been in the water for that long and to have maintained their strength and ability to keep their heads above the water was quite amazing.

"The two who helped the rescue did brilliantly - turning up with lifejackets was great."

Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander Inspector Sandra Venables praised Dean for his actions, and Adam for the support he provided. She said: "These people were very lucky that officers with detailed local knowledge were in the right place at the right time. With his surf lifesaving skills, I can't think of another officer better able to deal with such a situation than Dean."

ENDS

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