Rock Rescue at Karekare/Mercer Bay
At 2.18pm on Tuesday 30th June 2020 lifeguards from Karekare, Piha and United were tasked by police to respond to a group of hikers trapped on the rocks in the Mercer Bay area. Off duty Volunteer lifeguards responded from multiple locations, liaising with police and Surf lifesaving supervisors while in route to gather more information. As Karekare Surf Club is currently in the early stages of rebuilding the members responded to temporary shipping containers which are being used as gear storage. Lifeguards then regrouped on the beach with two IRB’s (inflatable rescue boats) after crossing the still flooded stream negotiating difficult beach access.
On reaching the north end of the beach lifeguards assessed the beach conditions with 3m plus surf and incoming tide and difficult conditions. Eagle the Police helicopter then arrived, landing on the beach to pick up senior lifeguard Shawn Wanden-Hannay to pinpoint the location of the hikers trapped on the rocks, and assess the risk conditions. By this stage two of the hikers had managed to return to Mercer Bay, leaving two patients in their 50’s trapped on the rocks. After locating two people on the rocks between Karekare and Mercer bay Shawn Wanden-Hannay was returned to the beach and discussed rescue options with other team members.
An IRB crewed by Shawn Wanden-Hannay and Sam Turbott was launched and made their way through the difficult surf to assess rescue options from the water. They returned to the beach and picked up lifeguard John Ocean Taylor. A second IRB was ready to respond on the beach and lifeguards were stationed on the North rocks; Eagle continued to circle monitoring the patients. The IRB then dropped Sam Turbott into the surf out to sea from the patients- Sam then swam into the rocks and climbed around to the patients. Extensive communications took place establishing that walking the patients out was not an option, the rock location and worsening surf conditions then ruled out IRB rescue. The Eagle helicopter made a number of attempts to land on a ledge near the patients, but the steep cliff edges, strong winds and huge surf made this impossible.
Land SAR and Westpac helicopter were requested, giving land and air rescue options; waiting out the incoming tide was also considered. Just after 5pm Westpac rescue arrived on scene and utilizing the local knowledge of Westpac paramedic/crewman and Karekare Lifeguard Stefan Gabor the two patients and lifeguard Sam were able to be winched into the helicopter and then returned to Karekare. Both patients were cold but otherwise uninjured and were grateful to have been rescued.
This rescued demonstrated the excellent skills of the Lifeguards, Eagle and Westpac helicopter crews in extremely difficult conditions and thankfully resulted in the rescue of two patients without injury. It also demonstrated the extremely challenging, unpredictable and dangerous conditions that surround undertaking any activity in the Mercer Bay area and serves as a warning to others to stick to the marked tracks. Note: Mercer Bay can only be accessed by a dangerous unmarked and unadvised route or in rare surf and tide conditions from Karekare.
Our Club are extremely proud of our lifeguards and all the other clubs and agencies involved in this very successful and dramatic rescue.
Written by Bex Walton-Hannay