Northland kayaker thanks coastguard rescuers

By Kristin Edge

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Rescued kayaker Mark Morgan with his Coastguard rescuers - Karl Leathley, skipper John Haselden and David Berg.
Rescued kayaker Mark Morgan with his Coastguard rescuers - Karl Leathley, skipper John Haselden and David Berg.

Safety measures for water commuters crossing Whangarei Harbour to Marsden Point oil refinery for work have been reviewed after a kayaker spent nearly seven hours adrift in stormy seas.

Mark Morgan, a fitter at the New Zealand Refinery at Marsden Point, launched from a jetty near the refinery and was moments from reaching Reotahi when a current, together with the waves, flipped him out of his kayak about 6pm last Monday.

Hours later, a full-scale, search-and-rescue operation was launched to find the 62-year-old, who was discovered clinging to his upturned kayak near the Ruakaka River Mouth entrance, about 9km from his destination.

Refining NZ has reviewed its procedures for workers and contractors crossing the stretch of water.

Communication manager for Refining NZ Greg McNeill said as a safety precaution staff and contractors were being told to check in with security before they travelled on the harbour and to check in again at the end of their journey.

"The security team at the refinery is connected into marine VHF communications so they can quickly raise the alarm should there be a problem."

"At the same time, we're reminding staff and contractors who travel on the harbour, of the need to follow safe procedures on the water and to check that their safety equipment, especially inflating life jacket, are working properly before they embark."

He said on the night Mr Morgan went missing the security team had contacted coastguard, which started the rescue.

"We are conscious of the fact we have people working near the water and some travelling across the harbour so safety around water is a requirement for us."

Mr Morgan said he knew of two boats and around seven kayakers who made the journey across the harbour each day.

On Monday it was an emotional reunion for Mr Morgan as he recounted his terrifying experience to the coastguard team who plucked him to safety.

It was the first chance he had to thank the volunteers who hauled him aboard their vessel about 1am last Tuesday after being spotted by the rescue helicopter crew.

The massive rescue operation with police, rescue helicopter, coastguard and St John involved a number of volunteers.

Mr Morgan was overwhelmed and sobbed as he thanked all the people involved in making sure he was discovered and rescued.

"It's not until you are involved with something like this that you realise how everybody rallies around," Mr Morgan said.

Coastguard skipper John Haselden said Mr Morgan's ability to stay calm during the ordeal might have saved his life.

He was also wearing thermal clothing and waterproof trousers and jacket that would have acted like a wet suit and kept his core temperature up.

While Mr Morgan had a lifejacket, a form of communication such as a phone or VHF hand held radio could have ended the incident very quickly, Mr Haselden said.

This week is volunteer week and Mr Haselden said while there were three members involved with the latest rescue, there were 30 other volunteers who kept the Whangarei Coastguard service running.

In Northland there are volunteer coastguard crews at Bay of Islands, Houhora, Northland Air Patrol, Hokianga, North Kaipara, Tutukaka, Whangaroa, and Whangaruru.

In the last 12 months 268 coastguard volunteers in the Northland have responded to 260 calls for assistance, dedicated 35,632 hours to search and rescue, training, fundraising and public education, brought 525 people home to safety and helped thousands more to enjoy their boating safely.

- Northern Advocate

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