A diver who feared he would drown in the coastal waters of the Coromandel Peninsula after he was smashed up in a fall on to rocks has paid tribute to his rescuers.
Marc Fraser was hunting for a diving mask when he fell more than 9m on to a rocky shelf and was swept into the sea.
"I thought I was going to drown," says Fraser, whose disaster led to a flight in the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. He is speaking out to support the fundraising efforts of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, which will be a beneficiary of a charity roast event next week.
They're magic, lifesavers - they're brilliant.
The 50-year-old from Tairua on the Coromandel had been spear fishing with two others around Watchman Rock, an islet 3km off the coast south of Pauanui, in March last year.
Fraser clambered on to the islet to search for one of his diving masks that had been lost there two days earlier by another spear fisherman.
"As I walked up I turned around to have a look and the rock fell off in my hand. I turned and looked and as I was going backwards it hit me in the face and I fell down 9.2m. I landed on my back. A wave washed me off and drove me into the ocean.
"I was down 6ft (2m) under water. I started kicking and I couldn't move so I thought my back had been broken. I thought I was going to drown."
He hauled himself back on to the rocks, but, feeling himself being sucked out again by the powerful waves, jammed a hand into a rocky gap. The force of the swell on Fraser's body wrecked his wrist before he freed it and crawled up onthe rock shelf.
His diving mates found him and began the rescue mission. A Coastguard boat took him to Tairua, an ambulance carried him to a local park and the rescue helicopter flew him to Auckland City Hospital.
Flight paramedic Russell Clarke and Dr Ula Haywood gave pain relief as Fraser had an open wound above his right eye, a fractured right wrist and pelvic pain. His condition on the way to the hospital was judged serious and he was later transferred to Middlemore Hospital where he spent two weeks in the intensive care unit.
As well as the damaged wrist and wounded forehead, he suffered injuries to his back and his right hip, ankle and shoulder.
"The hand surgeon told me that my injury was up there as the worst he had seen in his 17 years. That's when I knew I'd done some damage. I've got so much metal in my wrist it's ridiculous."
His injuries have forced him to give up his job as a landscaper and he is now studying for a masters degree in business.
Fraser is full of praise for all his rescuers and says of the helicopter outfit: "They're magic, lifesavers - they're brilliant."
The Charity Roast:
• When - September 6
• Where - SkyCity Convention Centre
• Tickets - charityroast.org.nz
• Proceeds - Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, Prostate Cancer Foundation
• To be roasted - Sir Peter Leitch, the Mad Butcher
• The roasters include - Sir Graham Henry, Sir John Kirwan, Leighton Smith
• What's a roast - Light-hearted celebration to poke good-natured fun at guest