A French firefighter who rescued two young children from the sea at Cornwallis says the young girl had turned blue by the time she arrived.

The heroic woman has today been identified as Marie Duvivier, a 29-year-old from Bretagne in Western France, currently in New Zealand for a year's sabbatical from her firefighting job.

Duvivier was instrumental in saving the lives of the two young children after they were swept out to sea in a strong current at Cornwallis Beach late on Saturday afternoon.

The children - who both since been discharged from Starship hospital - were believed to be from Dargaville holidaying in Auckland with relatives.

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Locals have praised Duvivier's quick actions and want them recognised. They had been desperate to track her down so that they could publicly thank her.

Resident John Glen earlier told the Herald, "If this French woman wasn't there, they would have been a goner."

Even French Ambassador Sylvaine Carta-Le Vert has publicly applauded Duvivier's actions on Facebook, saying 'Bravo Marie and all the best for the Auckland Marathon'.

Duvivier played down her heroics, saying she only did what she had been trained to do as a firefighter, however she did reveal just how close the young girl was to death as she struggled to keep her head above the water.

French firefighter Marie Duvivier, right, helps bring the children to shore at Cornwallis Beach on Saturday. Photo / John Glen
French firefighter Marie Duvivier, right, helps bring the children to shore at Cornwallis Beach on Saturday. Photo / John Glen

She hadn't planned to head to Cornwallis that day, but had been recommended it by friends she met while doing a hike earlier.

"I went there and it was beautiful so I took off my shoes and walked into the water along the side of the shoreline and then I arrived at the Cornwallis wharf.

She saw the children jump in, and then saw a fisherman throw out a lifeguard ring.

Duvivier noticed the face of a fisherman at the wharf then change to panic, so she jumped in the water and headed straight for the young girl.

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"The current was really strong and I had to swim a lot to get to the girl first ... I saw the boy but he seemed to swim properly ... but the girl she was really struggling and her head was drowning a lot so I went to her first.

Bravo Marie and all the best for the Auckland Marathon! 👏 🇫🇷 : Une touriste française qui participera au Auckland...

Posted by France in New Zealand - Ambassade de France à Wellington on Monday, 7 October 2019
Marie Duvivier is helped from the shore by Cornwallis residents after rescuing two drowning children at the local beach. Photo / John Glen
Marie Duvivier is helped from the shore by Cornwallis residents after rescuing two drowning children at the local beach. Photo / John Glen

"When I arrived she was sinking and she couldn't breathe so I did something to wake her up in the water because she was blue."

Duvivier said she managed to tilt the girl's head enough so that she was able to spit out some of the water she'd swallowed.

"Then I reached the lifeguard ring and I swam towards the boy and he was struggling but he managed to reach me as well.

"Then we began to swim with our legs to get back to the shoreline but the current was really strong.

"Then, there was this lady with a boat. She was a neighbour and she reached us, took the kids in the boat to get to the shoreline."

The neighbour, who declined to be named, said she reached them about 200m from the beach and about 10 to 15 minutes after Duvivier had jumped in to save them.

"When I got to the girl [Duvivier], she said, 'I've got no strength left'. She was holding up the two children and trying to swim at the same time," the resident said.

"She was a very, very courageous girl. She could have drowned herself."

Although she was tired, Duvivier said she figured it would be quicker for her to swim to dry land, while the neighbour took the children and performed CPR.

"There was not much time, the little girl was really shivering and I thought it was better to just swim."

The French athlete, centre, works with Cornwallis locals to help warm up the two freezing children. Photo / John Glen
The French athlete, centre, works with Cornwallis locals to help warm up the two freezing children. Photo / John Glen

Reaching the shore, Duvivier said she grabbed the girl who was shivering cold and used the neighbour's shower to get her under warm water as she felt she was at risk of hypothermia.

She downplayed earlier reports she was a "marathon runner" or "athlete" instead preferring to be called an "avid hiker".

She is set to take part in her first marathon later this month - the ASB Auckland Marathon on Sunday, October 20.

Asked whether she was a strong swimmer, Duvivier said she now was due to her training to become a firefighter two years ago.

"It was a lot of work because two years ago before I trained to be a firefighter in France I could not swim.

"I practised a lot, thanks to my friend who taught me how to swim. Now I do a lot of swimming. I did 6km just before I arrived in New Zealand. It's a really good satisfaction knowing that I can swim and do useful things."

As for being lauded for her brave actions, Duvivier downplayed but thanked the Cornwallis locals for their thoughts.

"Oh that's alright, thank you," she said.

A boat came to the rescue of Frenchwoman Marie Duvivier after she saved two children struggling in the water at Cornwallis Wharf on Saturday afternoon. Photo / John Glen
A boat came to the rescue of Frenchwoman Marie Duvivier after she saved two children struggling in the water at Cornwallis Wharf on Saturday afternoon. Photo / John Glen

Additional reporting; Simon Collins