Rescue earns rookies citation

By Lin Ferguson

Four young Rangitikei College students will be presented with national citations by Surf Life Saving NZ to recognise their involvement in an outstanding rescue.

The students have been trained by David Pontin, who teaches mathematics and science at the college, and is patrol captain of the Palmerston North Surf Life Saving Club at Himatangi Beach.

The four rookie guards were part of the dramatic search and rescue on January 5, when 27-year-old Feilding man Jarrett Simeon drowned.

For two of them it was their first volunteer duty at the beach, Mr Pontin said.

"And they did a remarkable job ... Talk about baptism by fire."

The Surf Life Saving team started at the college only last year, when Mr Pontin moved from Christchurch.

It was now one of the school's recognised sports teams, thanks to principal Karene Biggs, he said.

"Which means we have the use of the school sports van to get to training at the club twice a week and for our volunteer duties."

"They [the students] can go the hard yards in everything from sport to the classroom, and they all display a totally professional attitude now, and they have fantastic co-ordination and discipline."

To try out for the team, they had to swim 400m in under nine minutes. Since the team had been established several students at the school were waiting to try out.

On the day of the rescue, the club's volunteer patrol was notified by a member of the public that a group of people were in trouble in a hole 800m south of the flags, he said.

"I immediately sent out a crew in an inflatable rubber boat (IRB), and they found a distressed swimmer clinging to a surfboard who told them a second person was also in trouble," Mr Pontin said.

He sent his two newest rookies on a beach search, where they spoke to everyone on the beach that afternoon in case the missing male swimmer had somehow made it to shore and hadn't told anyone.

After bringing in the first swimmer, the second IRB was dispatched and police were notified to assist with the rapidly growing search, he said.

Extra lifeguards were brought in and sent to perform a shore search and control the growing crowd of onlookers, Mr Pontin said.

"All up that day, we had 10 IRBs out. Foxton Surf Life Saving Club came up to help us with the Foxton Coastguard boat and jetski. It was a big search, and at the same time it was also a very busy day at the beach with several other swimmers having to be rescued close to the flags that afternoon."

After the first hour of the search, five Capital/Coast call-out IRBs (three from Paekakariki and two from Otaki) came in with the local rescue helicopter.

Mr Pontin said he continued the overall co-ordination of the search until the police arrived and took control.

"It was an incredible day for my young lifeguards, and they were so good - I was immensely proud of them."

The search continued until 8.45pm that night.

"Sadly, the man's body was found just after dawn the next day by the volunteer fire service, who conducted a shore-line search," he said.

The body of Jarrett Simeon was found about 100m from the Himatangi Surf Life Saving Club just before 6am on Sunday January 6, after he had drifted away from a group of friends while swimming the afternoon before.

In their framed citation, all the Palmerston North lifeguards that day will be commended for their outstanding performance in the water and on the beach.

Surf Life Saving NZ say safety, excellence, courage and respect are fundamental to the work clubs deliver throughout New Zealand.

"And the extraordinary efforts shown by all the lifeguards involved in this rescue were outstanding - you can all be proud of your fellow surf lifeguards."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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