A quick call to action by Northland lifeguards to assist a young man lucky to be alive after a boat's propeller nearly amputated his leg has earned them a national accolade.
Last week Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service were awarded third place in Surf Lifesaving New Zealand's BP Rescue of the Month for January from a national pool of 11 nominations.
A SLSNZ spokeswoman said the lifeguards' rapid response had prevented a tragedy occurring.
"The coordination with the rescue helicopter to help winch the young man from the vessel could have been delayed without trained personnel on scene, which could also have led to a worse outcome for the patient."
Ahead of them was runner-up, Waihi Beach Lifeguard Service's Bowentown Patrol, for their efforts to save Kaelah Marlow, 19, from Hamilton, who tragically died as the result of a shark attack on January 7.
And first place went to the Taranaki Emergency Call-Out Squad for their efficient and technically-challenging rescue at dusk of four teenage girls stuck on Pararaki Rock at Back Beach, New Plymouth on January 5.
The alarm was raised about a young man seriously hurt around 5km offshore from Mangawhai Beach shortly before midday on January 17.
A rescue boat was immediately launched in choppy conditions by Mangawhai Heads volunteer surf lifeguards Mike Ardern, Andrew Mumford, and Mark Vercoe - who only had a GPS heading to go by.
Off-duty paramedic, Geoff Sim, who happened be on the beach with his children enjoying the junior surf programme, joined the three guards on the callout.
Less than 20 minutes later the rescuers spotted a small boat with three people on board. They noticed the boat's outboard motor was partially raised out of the water with a shirt wrapped around the propeller.
A nearby yacht, who had also heard the Mayday call, had secured the boat to their vessel while motoring slowly into the chop to minimise jostling.
A 21-year-old man lay seriously injured on the boat floor with a temporary tourniquet made from a blanket tied around his leg.
The man's thigh had a cut so deep it had nearly amputated his leg, Ardern said.
"When I saw the cut on his calf muscle I thought he'd probably need 30 or 40 stitches. But then we lifted the blanket up and it was pretty bad. He'd lost a lot of blood."
Mumford, a St John Ambulance paramedic, and Sim whipped into action with the assistance of Vercoe and Ardern to put a proper tourniquet on the man's leg. They also provided oxygen and an IV as the Northland Rescue Helicopter arrived on the scene.
"We gave him fluids and oxygen to balance his condition before the helicopter arrived."
St John flight medic and rescue swimmer Leah Baker said the man was incredibly lucky to be alive.
"It was the biggest laceration I've seen. It went all the way down to the bone."
Baker said the group had been fishing and were returning back to shore when the small boat hit a wave.
"The man bounced out of the boat then boat ran over him," she said. "He became caught in the propeller."
The man, in a serious but stable condition, was winched onto the rescue helicopter and airlifted to Whangārei Hospital.
Coastguard Whangārei arrived 20 minutes later to transport the man's friends and their boat back to the Mangawhai Harbour.
But as they crossed the Mangawhai Bar one of the men went into shock.
"We had just got back to the beach and then we had to rush back out again," Ardern said.
Ardern was grateful he and his fellow lifeguards were able to rush to the man's aid and provide emergency care.
"It's great when it's a successful rescue - especially one as serious as this," he said. "It could've easily been a fatality."
Mangawhai Heads lifeguards and the club's Emergency Call Out Squad (ECOS) had been kept busy this summer.
Rescues had included a person having a stroke late at night on a launch, various breakdowns on the Mangawhai bar, spinal injuries, and an after-hour heart attack.
"All of these incidents make our training so worthwhile," Ardern said.
Mangawhai Heads VLS will be recognised with $200-worth of BP gift vouchers.