Taupo man saved after fall into river

By Laurilee McMichael

The quick actions of three Hukafalls Jet staff helped save a Taupo man after he tumbled into the Waikato River.

Tony Swainson, 76, a well-known fisherman and fishing writer, has spent 70 years fishing around the world but he says it's ironic that despite spending so much time in and around water, he's never learned to swim.

So there was little time to act when Tony, whose balance has been affected by cancer treatment, lost his footing on a jetty on the river while watching his son, Ian, and daughter-in-law Ronja swimming.

``It happened so quickly I never had time to panic.

``One minute I was standing up and the next minute I was admiring the underwater plants.''

Tony says he didn't have the chance to spot any fish while he was under the water either.

``I didn't really have time and unfortunately everything seemed blurred,'' he jokes.

The river was running high at the time, the current was strong and Tony was well out of his depth. He managed to grab onto the side of the jetty but from there it's doubtful he would have had the strength to get himself out.

He says he thinks if he had been in the water much longer he would have been washed underneath it.

Ian says he and Ronja were in the water at the time and when they looked up at the jetty, they saw Tony suddenly wasn't there. They sprinted onto the jetty to find Tony hanging on for dear life. However, they couldn't pull him out because there were protruding bolts and other obstructions in the way.

Nearby, the Hukafalls Jet crew were cleaning their boats before putting them away for the evening and Hukafalls Jet operations manager Phil Ball says the three _ himself, mechanic Steve Riddle and driver Mike Tindle _ suddenly heard cries for help.

The trio raced to the jetty jettisoning their keys and cellphones en route. Phil dived into the deep water fully clothed and held Tony up while the other two assisted from the jetty. Once they were able to move Tony away from the obstructions they were able to rescue him.

``I was holding onto his belt, holding up myself and the boys grabbed his arms and pulled him out,'' says Phil. ``It happened pretty quickly and then they helped me out _ which was nice of them. That was it really. It just happened so fast.''

Phil says it's lucky he, Steve and Mike were close by and that they didn't have their tractor operating, as there was no way they would have heard Ian and Ronja's calls for help.

Ian and Ronja took Tony home to dry out, while Phil, Mike and Steve first hunted for their keys and cellphones and then had the job of trying to explain to other sceptical staff members why Phil was soaking wet.

``They didn't believe it.''

Ian says he's grateful that the Hukafalls Jet staff were close by because he didn't think Ronja and he would have been able to pull Tony out by themselves.

``I wasn't sure whether he was going to be able to hang on for long.

``The key was to get him out quickly.''

Tony agrees.

``It would have been a really sticky situation.''

Tony was no worse the wear for his impromtu swim apart from a bit of minor damage to his arms, and he and wife Ros said they were very grateful to the Hukafalls Jet crew's quick reactions.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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