A renowned Kiwi extreme adventure whitewater kayaker has been rescued from a steep central North Island river gully after nearly drowning attempting a treacherous waterfall plunge.
Okere Falls man Ryan Lucas is in Rotorua Hospital after he was pulled unconscious from the water by a fellow kayaker. He failed to surface after riding down a 25m waterfall on the Tauranga-Taupo River yesterday.
Police say the 25-year-old and his kayaking companion were dropped off in the Kaimanawa Forest Park yesterday to kayak a section of the river, which included the Tauranga-Taupo Falls.
Taupo Senior Constable Barry Shepherd said the experienced kayaker plunged down the falls but struck the bottom badly, almost costing him his life.
"As the first kayaker paddled over the falls, he landed badly, getting knocked out and submerged in the water. His kayaking partner, who was at the bottom looking out for him, immediately pulled him out and performed CPR on the riverside, successfully reviving him and saving his life."
Without any means to call for help, the pair continued paddling downstream.
"On the way down, they missed an exit point but couldn't turn back. With the onset of darkness, the two stopped and lit a fire for warmth," said Shepherd.
The kayaking friend, who is being regarded as a hero, made sure Lucas was comfortable before scrambling 100m up a bank and walking 5km down a forestry road to get cellphone reception and raise the alarm about 12.30am.
A search and rescue operation was launched involving police, St John Ambulance and LandSar Turangi volunteers. NZ Forest staff were also deployed and the Taupo-based Greenlea Rescue Helicopter searched from above.
Using the mobile phone, the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter and ground crew were able to log the man's general position in the wilderness and, using night vision googles, spotted the injured man stuck in a narrow, steep-sided part of the river.
"I think he may have knocked himself out and fortunately his friend who followed him down was able to pull him out of the water and do CPR on him," said Greenlea Rescue Helicopter pilot Nat Every.
He said when the helicopter crew first spotted the injured man he was desperately trying to get their attention.
"He was pretty distressed to begin with. He was jumping around and dancing. We managed to calm him down and then started to wonder how we were going to get this guy out."
The helicopter led a ground crew in 4WD vehicles along forestry trails to the closest ridge above the injured kayaker's position.
Rescuers had to go on foot to the river's edge down the steep bush-covered hillside.
Within a short time, Lucas was found on the edge of the river.
A fire that had been lit beside him by his friend was clearly visible from above and ground teams were able to reach him by 3am, said Shepherd.
Rescue teams began walking the man up the steep slope but within a few minutes the plan was abandoned when he started to vomit blood. He was winched out and initially flown to Taupo Hospital before he was transferred to Rotorua Hospital.
The stricken kayaker, who was suffering from hypothermia, told the helicopter crew his friend had "saved his life".
Every said the man rescued was recognised as a world-class adventure kayaker and was understood to be the first person to kayak down the falls on a previous expedition.
Shepherd said both men were very experienced kayakers, having paddled dozens of waterfalls around the world.