Far North Surf Lifeguards rescue two men and six dogs after tractor gets stuck in rising floodwaters

For Surf Life Saving Northern Region

Dramatic flooding in Northland saw Far North Surf Rescue lifeguards trade in a restful sleep to perform a daring night-time rescue. The club’s Emergency Callout Squad, based in Ahipara, was notified by Police just after midnight Saturday 18 July that two men had been trapped by rising floodwaters near Kaitaia.

Club president Tony Walker says it was clear when the lifeguards arrived that a water rescue would be needed. “The tractor was about 200 metres from the roadside and was nearly under the water, so it must have been about two to three metres deep,” he says. “One man was perched on the very top of the tractor’s roll cage and the other man, who had earlier tried to assist with a tow-truck, was on a rise about halfway back”.

Mr Walker says that before launching their Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB), the lifeguards performed a risk assessment to make sure they wouldn’t be harmed performing the rescue. “The Kaitaia Fire Service and Police had the scene well lit by flood-lamps and a few of their guys had waded out to about waist-depth, so we could see the current wasn’t too strong and there was no obvious debris,”

A decision was made to attempt a rescue in the IRB, with Kane Matuschka as crew and Thom Anderson as the driver. Before launching, the pair donned their helmets, lifejackets and a personal locator beacon, and they were also given a lamp for the IRB in case they ended up outside the path lit by the flood-lamps.

“Kane and Thom managed to successfully get the two men off the tractor and back to the roadside where the Kaitaia Fire Service checked them over,” says Mr Walker. “The farmer then asked if the team could also rescue his six dogs who were caged at his house just beyond the tractor.”

A second trip in the IRB was taken and all six dogs were also rescued. “I spoke with the tractor driver this afternoon and he had been on the tractor for three hours by the time he was rescued and was pretty panicked and cold. He was very grateful that no human or animal lives were lost,” says Mr Walker.

“In the end this is what we’re here for, this is what we train up as lifeguards for. We’re here to help our whole community,”

“I think this is a reminder for anyone in the Far North that if you see someone in trouble in the water call 111 and ask Police for the surf lifeguards. They will let us know and if we’re able to help - we will try our very best.”

Surf Life Saving Northern Region Operations Manager Alan Gibson praised Far North Surf Rescue’s response. “Our Emergency Callout Squads train regularly to make sure they’re rescue ready for aquatic emergencies,” he says. “This challenging rescue in difficult weather conditions undertaken with support of the local fire brigade and Police is a great display of emergency agencies working together to achieve the best outcome.”

Although this rescue was not at sea, Mr Gibson says it shows the lifeguards are a vital part of the community. “Their training has ensured that the two men and the dogs are safe and well. Far North Surf Rescue cover a wide area and respond to many local and regional aquatic emergencies.”

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