July 1, 2020
Lifeguards involved with a rescue operation on Auckland's west coast say strong winds and huge surf made the rescue "extremely difficult".
Shorlty after 2pm on Tuesday lifeguards from Karekare, Piha and United were called to the Mercer Bay area, near Piha, to help a group of stranded hikers.
The group of four had become trapped on rocks several metres away from shore.
Lifeguards had difficulty accessing the beach due to flooding from the recent storm in Auckland, a Surf Lifesaving spokeswoman said.
"On reaching the northern end of Karekare beach, lifeguards assessed the conditions noting three metre plus surf, incoming tide and difficult weather."
It landed on the beach to pick up senior lifeguard Shawn Wanden-Hannay to pinpoint the location of the hikers and assess the situation.
By that stage two of the hikers had managed to make their way back to Mercer Bay, leaving two hikers in their 50s stranded, the spokeswoman said.
"An inflatable rescue boat, (IRB), crewed by Wanden-Hannay and lifeguard Sam Turbott was launched and they made their way through the difficult surf to assess rescue options from the water."
The pair returned to the shore and picked up Karekare lifeguard John Taylor, while a second IRB was made ready to respond.
Turbott was then dropped into the surf, out to sea from the trapped hikers, and he swam onto the rocks beside them, the spokeswoman said.
"Extensive communications took place establishing that walking the patients out was not an option, the rock location and worsening surf conditions also ruled out IRB rescue."
The Eagle helicopter made a number of attempts to land on a ledge near the hikers, but steep cliff edges, strong winds and huge surf made this impossible, the spokeswoman said.
LandSAR and an Auckland westpac rescue helicopter were also called in and shortly after 5pm the decison was made to winch the two hikers and Turbott to safety.
"Both patients were cold but otherwise uninjured and were grateful to have been rescued," the spokeswoman said.
"This rescue demonstrates the excellent skills of the Lifeguards, Eagle and Westpac helicopter crews in extremely difficult conditions and thankfully resulted in the rescue of two patients without injury.
"It also highlights the extremely challenging, unpredictable and dangerous conditions that surround undertaking any activity in the Mercer Bay area and serves as a warning to others to stick to the marked tracks."
The spokeswoman said access to Mercer Bay was only possible by a "very steep, unmarked and unadvised route", or occasionally in rare small surf and low tide conditions from Karekare beach.