Modest heroes who live among us

By Abby Gillies

Kiwis risked their lives and inspired others through their heroism this year. Abby Gillies recaps their stories.

Michelle O'Brien, 8, and her father, Kevin O'Brien, spent hours giving help to a group of young American survivors of a triple-fatality road accident. Photo / Alan Gibson
Michelle O'Brien, 8, and her father, Kevin O'Brien, spent hours giving help to a group of young American survivors of a triple-fatality road accident. Photo / Alan Gibson

Early on the morning of May 12, 8-year-old Michelle O'Brien showed humanity, kindness, and selfless bravery when faced with the unthinkable.

The Turangi girl and her father Kevin had just dropped off some tourists to walk the Tongariro Crossing when they came across a horrific crash scene only metres from their front gate.

The crash killed American university students Daniella Lekhno, 20, Roch Jauberty, 21, and Austin Brashears, 21, and injured four others when their van left the road and rolled several times near Rangipo.

As Mr O'Brien, a former ambulance officer, tended to those at the scene, his daughter and the less-severely injured went back to the house where, unbeknown to him, she set about caring for them.

"I came back down to the house to do a secondary assessment on them but Michelle had already dealt with them," the proud father said at the time.

"She'd gone around and washed the blood off some of them and put plasters on cuts, given them blankets and was massaging the shoulders of those who were in shock ...

one of them was just shaking."

This year's heroes showed bravery, courage or other noble qualities, and their actions ranged from sporting feats to helping neighbours and strangers.

Some trained hard to achieve their hero title, others achieved it as a result of coincidence and timing.

But regardless of how they get there, they played an important role in our culture, said psychologist Sara Chatwin.

"Heroes are people that we need in our world to give us focus, to give us something to aspire to," she said.

When Mahe Drysdale came to the rescue of a tourist who fell onto rocks he earned double hero status.

The Olympic men's single sculls gold medallist was walking the Tongariro Crossing with two other rowers when they came across a backpacker who had injured his back and arms in a fall.

Thirty-four-year-old Drysdale called 111, and the trio stayed with the man until the rescue helicopter arrived.

Five months earlier as he stood on the podium in front of Kiwi fans in London, Drysdale was celebrated as a hero along with New Zealand's other Olympic medallists.

Others have risked their own lives to save others, rescuing strangers from burning buildings, and in beach and river incidents.

Aaron Mitchell, 21, broke his pelvis and chipped his spine when he slipped and fell into a blowhole at Muriwai Beach on Auckland's West Coast on September 30, suffering "absolute agony" as waves bashed his body against the rocks.

The supermarket worker believed he would have drowned had a rescuer not appeared and held him out of the water until emergency services arrived.

Reaching out through the media, a recovering Mr Mitchell met his hero, 26-year-old chef Jordan Rippey, when he read the article and visited him at North Shore Hospital.

"The great thing is I actually got to thank him in person and shake his hand. I'm pretty chuffed about that," said Mr Mitchell.

Some shrug off the hero tag, saying they simply did what anyone else would.

When an axe-wielding man entered a Whangamata bank in October, two quick-thinking bystanders waited for staff to get out of the building and then barricaded him inside until police arrived.

Animals and those who rescue them also featured.

Standing alongside Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, Irish wolfhound Guinness, known as the earthquake dog, was presented with a Local Hero Medal for his role in clean-up work with his owner Sean Scully.

Another Cantabrian, Donna Moot, was also recognised for her work rescuing and housing more than 250 abandoned turtles at her Somerfield home after the February 2011 earthquake.

Reluctant hero Godfrey Evans was this year honoured with a Royal Humane Society bravery medal for dragging an elderly man from his burning Rangiora home and then going back to search for his wife.

He was driving home on September 20, 2009, when he saw flames and smoke billowing from the house belonging to Jack and Mary Jean Chaston.

Mr Chaston survived but sadly his wife died.

The pensioner applauded Mr Evans' bravery, saying he "deserves all the accolades he gets".

While Kiwis should praise and celebrate each other's heroic acts more, "a true hero doesn't need to be told", said Ms Chatwin.

"Quietly, secretly they love the praise and the adulation, but the key component is they do not need it."

- APNZ

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