A beam of torchlight outlining a motionless body on the seashore may have saved the life of a 25-year-old Hawke's Bay man, found soaking wet, comatose and rigid on Waimarama Beach, following New Year's Eve celebrations.
The man, who was discovered by six friends taking a stroll along the Domain about 1.30am, was later flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital by the Lowe Corp Rescue Helicopter.
Police believe he had been drinking with family and friends at Waimarama Seaside Resort Campground, before walking down to the beach where he strayed away from the group.
"We managed to locate his friends who had lost him. He was down on the beach with the other revellers and somehow wandered off and ended up in the water," Senior Constable Alan Daly said. "He was pretty intoxicated."
Taare Black was among the party which stumbled upon what they feared may have been a dead man.
"I was shining my torch onto the beach when I saw something down by the water, I thought what is that? A whale or a dead shark?" Mr Black said.
"When we came over he wasn't conscious and he was frozen rigid - I thought we might be too late, that he was dead and rigor mortis had set in.
"The beach was empty and he was freezing cold."
Fortunately, registered nurse Lynda Coldicutt was on hand to assess the man's condition.
"I felt [his wrist] for the radial pulse, but he was freezing and I couldn't really feel anything, then I felt his carotid [neck] pulse, it was very faint but it was there. We didn't know if he had any neck or back injuries, but we had to get him out of the water," Ms Coldicutt said. While he was not fully submerged, the man was lying with his face partially buried in sand as high tide approached.
"We don't know how long he was there or what would have happened if we hadn't found him. Any longer and he could have been a casualty," Laura Donovan added.
The friends carried the man to the roadside where they borrowed a blanket from passers-by while they waited for emergency services to arrive.
Mr Daly commended the groups' actions saying their fast thinking may have saved a life.
"They did a perfect job, luckily they turned up when they did. Certainly he's now got a chance to live, he was in the right hands," Mr Daly said.
The man was discharged from hospital yesterday.