A man who fell several metres off a bluff while rock-hopping at Ten Mile north of Greymouth on Sunday was only found after a local strolling along the beach heard what he first thought was a seal calling.
The injured man had been scrambling around rocks some time about 2.30pm when he fell into the sea below, breaking his leg on the way down, Runanga Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Gavin Gibbens said.
The man, who was apparently staying nearby, had gone for a walk when he fell off the rocks into the sea, near the mouth of Ten Mile Creek, at the Nine Mile beach end.
Despite a high break to his leg the injured man, in his 30s, was able to drag himself from the outgoing tide and scramble on to a ledge above the sea. He was found shortly before 4pm.
"A local out at the Nine Mile was wandering along the beach and heard this noise. He thought it was a seal initially, and then saw this guy on a ledge," Mr Gibbens said.
"He had fallen about 3m and in the process had smashed a leg and fallen into the sea ... He had been there for an hour."
When emergency services arrived the man told his rescuers he believed he had broken his leg on the rocks before hitting the bottom.
"He managed to pull himself up into the ledge to get out of the water, and that was as far as he could go," Mr Gibbens said.
Access was fairly difficult for the rescuers, although in the end the Greymouth brigade's lines rescue equipment on standby at the site was not needed.
An unidentified local man who found the injured man remained with him after notifying emergency services by cellphone.
Mr Gibbens said the rescue took about 90 minutes. A relay team first immobilised the man's broken limb and administered pain relief before taking him off the ledge and back on to the beach. He was then carried about 10m to the waiting NZCC West Coast Rescue Helicopter, which flew him to Grey Base Hospital.
Mr Gibbens said it was extremely fortunate that the man was able to get out of the sea initially and was found after only an hour.
"I don't know how he would have fared overnight, with the fact that he was cold and wet, and with the shock and with the incoming tide."