An off-duty Levin ambulance officer has received a thank you from a man she saved from certain death earlier this year.

Jacinta Rangi received an award from St John for her bravery after saving the life of 41-year-old Wade Kelly at Cooks Beach in the Coromandel during the summer holidays.

Rangi, who was on holiday herself at the time, was relieved to hear that Kelly had survived the ordeal. But that's all she knew.

When Rangi received the St Johns Award recently, a Horowhenua Chronicle story highlighting her bravery was shared on the internet.

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By chance, the story was viewed by Kelly, who lives in Australia. Up until that time, he had no idea who had saved him, as he concentrated on his recovery.

The family had since made contact with Rangi, thanking her for saving his life.

Kelly was a former New Zealander who had lived in Australia for the best part of 20 years, settling in Newcastle. He had holidayed every summer with family in New Zealand at Cooks Beach.

That afternoon he had wandered away from the family unit on his own and decided to dive off a nearby cliff into the sea. But he landed awkwardly, hitting rocks on the way down, and was unconscious by the time he hit the water.

By chance, Rangi had gone for a walk and saw Kelly fall. Her two sons Sam, 14, and Alex, 12, were off doing their own thing, but suggested she should go and check out a cave they had found around the bay.

As an amateur photographer with a penchant for sunsets, she wrapped the camera in a plastic bag and went for a walk.

She was the only person to see Kelly hit the water. His motionless body stayed afloat for a time on the surface before disappearing under the water.

"You could tell he was unconscious. Then his body rolled over and he just sank. Because he was still breathing, he had breathed in salt water, and just sank," she said.

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Rangi, who luckily was in good physical condition after training for an Ironman, swam out some distance to where she believed he had gone under and pulled the much larger Kelly from the ocean floor.

She then swam some distance back to shore with an unconscious Kelly under her arm, mindful of keeping his head above water.

Rangi then performed life-saving techniques before ambulance officers and a helicopter arrived, and he was rushed to Auckland Hospital by air with internal and external injuries to his head and body.

Kelly's brain was bleeding and he was put in an induced coma. That was the last Rangi had heard of the incident. As he had taken a lot of salt water in his lungs, and at the time she was unsure if he would survive.

Rangi recently received a CEO Commendation award from St John's in recognition of her bravery that day.

Murray Holt
Murray Holt

One of the first responders to the scene was Murray Holt, who was also a paramedic and was 7km away at Hahei. He said he had never seen anything quite like it in 27 years of service.

"I was gobsmacked," he said. "He was not a small guy. He was unconscious and would have been a dead weight. Somehow she managed to pull him from the ocean floor and managed to keep his head above water and get him back to shore."

"I looked at him and thought 'how has she done this'."

"When I arrived he was critical and it was pretty clear that had she not done what she did he would have died in the water."