Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Bravery medal for reluctant hero

Rangiora fire hero Godfrey Evans. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Rangiora fire hero Godfrey Evans. Photo / Geoff Sloan

A reluctant hero will be honoured with a Royal Humane Society bravery medal today for dragging an elderly man from a burning home and going back in to find the man's wife.

Helicopter pilot Godley Evans, 43, was driving home from the supermarket on September 20, 2009 when he saw flames billowing from a Rangiora house.

Elderly couple Jack and Mary Jean Chaston were trapped inside as the ferocious blaze enveloped their Victoria St home and they started to be overcome by smoke.

Mr Evans stopped his car, jumped a fence, and heard 90-year-old Mr Chaston's cries for help.

He manhandled a metal security door from its hinges and, leaning away from smoke and billowing flames, he managed to reach inside and drag Mr Chaston to the safety of the driveway.

"Get Jean out," the distraught husband cried.

In spite of the "extreme" conditions and poor visibility, Mr Evans returned to the house intending to rescue Mrs Chaston. Windows were starting to explode as the fire intensified, with witnesses describing the flames being higher than the roof.

Mr Evans, of nearby Waikuku Beach, went back into the house through the conservatory, crawled along the floor on his stomach, and called out for Mrs Chaston.

He had no response.

The rescuer crawled from the conservatory and ventured about 3m into the lounge where the smoke was even heavier and there was almost zero visibility.

He could find no trace of Mrs Chaston.

At this stage, badly affected by the smoke, he realised that he would have to leave.

He crawled back out of the house and alerted arriving firefighters that there was a woman still inside.

Mrs Chaston, 87, was then found by firefighters in her bedroom but she died later that evening in hospital.

Today, Mr Evans, a commercial pilot who flies helicopters in Papua New Guinea, will be remembered for his bravery at an awards ceremony for the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand at Government House in Wellington.

Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae will present Mr Evans, and four others - Kima Sampson, Dean Herrick, Geoffrey Taylor, and Stephen Smith - with individual Silver Medals in recognition of civilian bravery.

Yesterday, Mr Evans remembered the day with mixed emotions; glad to have been able to rescue the elderly man but still distraught that he couldn't save Mrs Chaston.

"It brings back a lot of emotions," he said.

He rejected the "hero" label, saying shortly after the incident: "No, I'm not a hero. I just did what you do, don't you?

"I was just Johnny on the spot. It's all about helping people."

Mr Chaston, now aged 92, spoke yesterday from his retirement home in Christchurch to applaud Mr Evans' bravery recognition.

He recommended to police at the time that a bravery medal should be awarded.

"He deserves all accolades he gets," the pensioner said.

"It means a lot to me. He not only saved me when the public, as usual, stood around gaping, but he also went back in and hunted around looking for my wife.

"It was three years ago but I still think about it every day. My wife and I got on so well and I'll never forget her. It was a terrible tragedy what happened."

SIDEBAR
* Kima Sampson also saved a man from a house fire in Trentham on September 5, 2010.
* Dean Herrick, Geoffrey Taylor, and Stephen Smith performed a dangerous helicopter rescue in rough seas and deteriorating weather, saving the life of a solo yachtsman about 62 nautical miles off Cape Kidnappers, on October 11, 2011.

- NZ Herald

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