Father and son plucked from rocks

By Katee Shanks of The Daily Post -
Whakatane lifeguard Chantal Lillas,18, pictured on the foreshore at Whakatane Heads, is being hailed a hero for her part in rescuing a man and his 8 year old son. Photo / Alan Gibson
Whakatane lifeguard Chantal Lillas,18, pictured on the foreshore at Whakatane Heads, is being hailed a hero for her part in rescuing a man and his 8 year old son. Photo / Alan Gibson

An Eastern Bay father and his 8-year-old son had to be winched to safety when large waves trapped the pair on rocks near the Whakatane Heads.

The pair had walked out on to rocks to fish yesterday morning but got caught out by the incoming tide. They had to be rescued when 2.5m waves cut off their path home.

Whakatane police said a large swell and the high tide trapped the pair on the rocks, prompting a call for people to always be prepared for any condition.

Sergeant Craig Thorne of the Whakatane Search and Rescue team said a Surf Club inflatable rescue boat (IRB) initially went out with one member to rescue the 30-year-old father and his son. However, this proved too dangerous and the Tauranga-based TrustPower TECT rescue helicopter was called and winched all three to safety.

Mr Thorne said people needed to be prepared for all conditions.

"This is a timely reminder that no matter what the conditions are like when you set off they can change at the drop of a hat and you should be prepared for any condition," he said.

Steady rain had fallen for most of the day, cooling the recent high temperatures and making the rocks slippery.

Whakatane Surf Club member Chantal Lillas, 18, became involved in the action after being dropped close to the stranded pair by the IRB.

"Myself and two other surf club members went out in the IRB and I jumped into the water when there was a lull between sets [of waves]," Ms Lillas told The Daily Post.

"We were initially going to try and get the father and son off the rocks and into the boat one by one but the waves got bigger and the whitewater made this too dangerous."

When she reached the pair the youngster had only just stopped crying and was pretty cold.

"I gave him my jacket but, after being out there for an hour before the helicopter arrived, I got pretty cold too," she said.

Whakatane police cordoned off the grass area at the Whakatane Heads and set up flashing red lights for the helicopter.

First to be winched off the rocks was the boy, who was shaken and tired after the ordeal. He was taken to a waiting ambulance by a St John paramedic. His father, who looked sheepish and embarrassed, and Ms Lillas arrived minutes after to a cheer and a round of applause from the large group of people who had gathered to watch the rescue unfold, including Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne.

Surfers were also out en masse, taking advantage of the large and clean swell that had created spectacular waves.

Ms Lillas had a grin from ear-to-ear when she said the rescue had been her first time in a helicopter. "I can cross that off my list," she said.

A member of the Whakatane Surf Life Saving Club since she started nippers, Ms Lillas often patrols with Constable Dean Oswald, who was involved in the rescue of three people at Ohiwa only days ago. She said the 8-year-old had told her he wanted to go motorbike riding yesterday, not fishing.

"To make it worse they'd only caught a couple of undersize kahawai which they had thrown back," Ms Lillas said.

"It's good that there's a happy ending."

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