An Air Force helicopter crew risked their own lives to save three people trapped in "raging torrents" in Canterbury on Sunday.
Tales of the lifesaving missions emerged on Monday and today RNZAF Flight Lieutenant George McInnes spoke to the Herald about how his crew did the seemingly impossible to get the stricken Cantabrians to safety.
McInnes and his crew were aboard an NH90 helicopter helping Civil Defence and emergency services with evacuations on Sunday night after authorities declared a state of emergency across the whole district following 40 centimetres of rain that caused widespread flooding..
People across the region were evacuated as rivers burst their banks, homes filled with water and bridges cracked and bowed under the pressure of the severe storm.
Police asked McInnes if the crew could help a man stuck in a tree in Darfield, west of Christchurch.
"It was pitch black. It was obviously persisting down with rain, the weather was less than ideal, which added to the challenge," he said.
"We decided we probably wouldn't be able to do it, it was too risky.
"The water was rising rapidly. We looked at winching our loadmaster [crew member] down but quickly realised it was not feasible."
McInnes cancelled the task and started to fly towards Ashburton Forks where two people were trapped in a vehicle.
"That was a higher priority," he said.
"Then the [Darfield] gentleman jumped out of the tree and tried to swim for his life in the raging rapids.
"The police called us back quite urgently to try to find this guy who had been swept down river.
"We looked for him for five or 10 minutes and then we spotted him in another tree, his little head bobbing out of the water - he was holding on to a branch for dear life."
The loadmaster was winched down but could not get a rescue strop around the man.
"He managed to hold on to the guy though and we dragged him to the bank," he said.
"Then we went off to the people trapped in a vehicle.
"We tried to get the loadmaster down to them but the weather and our downwash was too strong, it was too dangerous."
Police contacted the people and explained that the helicopter crew would lower rescue strops and how to get them on.
They then hauled the pair to safety.
McInnes said he and his crew were not trained specifically for such situations and it was challenging - and scary.
"We don't usually train for the exercises in raging torrents and flood conditions... that was quite new and a challenge.
"We had to be quite careful of how we were skinning the cat, so to speak - when we winched the loadmaster down that first time we realised pretty quickly that to continue would put him and the civilian in a dangerous situation.
"We weren't prepared to go any further, but once he jumped into the water we didn't have an option."
The night was one McInnes and his crew would remember for a long time, he said.
"I'd like to forget it," he laughed.
"But no, no we won't."