Speedy dive saves fisherman

By Laurilee McMichael

The quick actions of three Hukafalls Jet staff helped save a Wairakei 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 said 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 Mr Swainson, 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."

Mr Swainson said 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 joked.

The river was running high at the time, the current was strong and Mr Swainson was well out of his depth. He managed to grab onto the side of the jetty but from there lacked the strength to get himself out.

Ian and Ronja sprinted onto the jetty to find Mr Swainson 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 and Hukafalls Jet operations manager Phil Ball said the three - himself, mechanic Steve Riddle and driver Mike Tindle - suddenly heard cries for help.

Mr Ball dived into the deep water fully clothed and held Mr Swainson up while the other two helped from the jetty. Once they were able to move Mr Swainson 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," Mr Ball said. "It happened pretty quickly and then they helped me out, which was nice of them. That was it really. It just happened so fast."

Mr Ball said it was lucky they were close by and 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 Mr Swainson home to dry out, while the Hukafalls crew first hunted for their keys and cellphones and then had the job of trying to explain to other sceptical staff members why Mr Ball was soaking wet.

"They didn't believe it."

Mr Swainson was no worse the wear for his impromptu dip 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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