Mangawhai Heads lass Hannah Williams was just laying on the beach soaking up the sun on Tuesday evening, but cries for help from the water saw her training kick into action as she raced into the sea to help three men and a child stuck in a rip.
Hannah, just 14, only qualified as a lifeguard last October and she didn't expect her first rescue to be so big, but she's won the plaudits of her colleagues for her unerring bravery. The Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service isn't patrolling the surf beach this week, but Hannah was there about 4.30pm on Tuesday when she heard club member Mike Scott yelling that a group of people in the water were being swept out in strong surf conditions with their hands raised for help. Hannah now represents Red Beach Surf Life Saving Club, but also patrols at Mangawhai.
Rookie lifeguard hailed as hero
She said she didn't have time to think too much about things and jumped into the water to help the four out.
A surfer went to save the child, so Hannah concentrated on helping the three men, who were about 200 metres off shore.
"It was a pretty strong rip and one of them was pretty panicky. He didn't really know what to do and was quite frightened," she said.
"The two others were trying to calm him down, but he wasn't. So I told them it's no use trying to swim against the rip and helped them work their way sideways [out of the rip] and back towards the beach. We were in the rip for about five or ten minutes, but it felt like longer."
She said when the three men got back to the beach their friends were all pleased that she had got in and rescued them. The three men, who she estimates were in their 30s or 40s, all thanked her for her efforts, which came naturally after her training.
"I didn't think I'd get to do something like this so soon [after qualifying]. It was quite exciting, but I was pretty tired afterwards because it was really hard work.
"This is not the best week not to have a patrol on at Mangawhai as the surf is huge, but you don't think about that when you are in the water. You just want to get them back," Hannah said.
Mr Scott swam out to help bring the group to safety and without the pair, particularly Hannah's intervention, there could have been serious consequences, Surf Life Saving New Zealand communications adviser Lisa Honeybone said.