There was an uneasy sense of recognition as Neil Burden watched a wave of dirt and dust sweep two tourists into the sea.

The cliff near Cape Kidnappers, towards the gannet colony, had given way. Chaos ensued.

A rescue helicopter tries to land as bystanders tend to a tourist injured by a slip at Cape Kidnappers on Wednesday. Photo / Supplied
A rescue helicopter tries to land as bystanders tend to a tourist injured by a slip at Cape Kidnappers on Wednesday. Photo / Supplied

The cries of help from the man and woman, both in their 20s, sparked a rescue operation. Visitors to the beach clambered over the mound of dirt which stretched as far as the eye could see.

Burden was 400 metres away from the bluff - too far to help but close enough to notice the eerie similarities.

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More than three decades earlier, on March 5, 1988, in almost the exact spot, two tourists from Belgium sustained injuries when a cliff collapsed.

Two tourists swept into the sea, a hero diving in to rescue them: Cape Kidnappers slips tell an eerily similar story.
Two tourists swept into the sea, a hero diving in to rescue them: Cape Kidnappers slips tell an eerily similar story.

"Before we got near to the slip, there was a person coming back to raise the alarm that people were in the sea and had broken legs," the former Gannet Beach Adventures co-owner said.

Marco Caviola had seen the two women, Pascale Guinic, 21, and Anita Vangastel, 25, standing by the cliff moments before it collapsed.

He lost sight of the women when the slip hit the beach, and a few seconds later he saw them in the surf, the Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune reported at the time.

The pair were transported to what is now Hawke's Bay Hospital via helicopter, having suffered "badly broken legs".

There were only two tractor operators working that day - Burden and Don Birch.

Gannet Beach Adventures former owner Neil Burden (right) recognises eerie similarities between last week's landslide and one three decades ago. Photo / File
Gannet Beach Adventures former owner Neil Burden (right) recognises eerie similarities between last week's landslide and one three decades ago. Photo / File

"I can still vividly remember looking down and seeing the girl's leg ... it wasn't very nice," Birch said.

"When we got there, [Caviola] had them all covered with as much clothing as he could and as far up the beach as he could and he just said 'you keep talk, you keep talk' because there was a bit of a language barrier."

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However, a person on the tour who spoke German helped translate.

They used walkie-talkies to communicate and had to use the lights of their tractors to direct the helicopter.

"Probably the longest hour-and-a-half that we ever had to wait was waiting for them to arrange the helicopter because of course there was nothing around in those days," Birch said.

Burden is well-acquainted with the area, having lived and worked there all his life.

Photos shows the extent of the slip which swept two Korean tourists into the water. Photo / Gary Elmers
Photos shows the extent of the slip which swept two Korean tourists into the water. Photo / Gary Elmers

And while the cliff is known to be unstable, he does not believe it should prevent people from visiting.

"The area is prone to a lot of wind and has a multitude of volcanic ash layers in the cliff and three faultlines run in that cliff over about 500m."

He said they had carried thousands of people to the gannet colony and back, almost all without injury.

An article on an earlier slip was published in the Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune in 1972. Photo / Supplied.
An article on an earlier slip was published in the Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune in 1972. Photo / Supplied.

It is one of two incidents he recalls of particular significance. However, the one on February 7, 1972, was about 5km away in different terrain, he says.

Gary Deakin, who was 22 at the time, had been clearing a slip with the help of several family members when another landslide came tumbling down.

"The slip actually came down virtually beside me and then worked like a wave over the top of me. If it had landed on me squarely, that would have been it ... but it washed me into the sea."

He was buried under the water and dirt but soon came free when it turned to "slurry".

Luckily, he only sustained scratches and scrapes, and sore ribs.

His vehicle and several of the Gannet Beach Adventures tractors were swept into the sea.

"We retrieved our broken-down vehicles - they were a complete right-off. The sea was so strong, it ripped the steel deck off the truck and the next Thursday we found it on the Clifton boat ramp. It had washed around that far."

Despite the accident he shares the same view as Burden.

"It's just an area that's got to be treated with respect and when you're passing dangerous-looking parts, you've just got to get through them and get on the safe side as quickly as possible."