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Fresh call for rescue gear

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

A call is being made for new rescue equipment to be on-hand at Lake Ferry in the wake of drownings in recent years.

No swimming. Dangerous surf. Strong current.

This is the message plastered on signs at Lake Ferry and Lake Onoke in South Wairarapa where the unpredictable sea conditions had claimed the lives of two people over the past two years — Filipino fisherman Bennie Hombrebueno, and retired Greytown vegetable grower Les Wong.

And even though prevention is key, sometimes an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff is better than having nothing at all.

Featherston resident and former lifeguard Perry Cameron is rallying support behind permanently-located rescue devices at the beach, and a working group has now been formed to explore options.

Mr Cameron, who was the former president of the Lake Ferry Ratepayers and Residents Association (LFRRA), is well known for being the third person ever to swim the Cook Strait.

He said it was decided late last year that a subcommittee should be formed to look at installing new warning signs and getting new rescue gear for the coastal area.

“It was meant to be a working group managing the safety of visitors and residents at the lake and beach,” he said.

But there was still no rescue gear at the beach.

At the LFRRA’s most recent meeting, there was a “split down the middle” by members with some people strongly supportive of lifesaving gear, but others questioning the safety message that it would convey to visitors.

“Some people are making the point that we shouldn’t provide any rescue equipment because then people will think that it is okay to go swimming because if something goes wrong someone will rescue them,” Mr Cameron said.

“But we need some gear.

“There are people around who know how to use rescue devices, trained people.”

He said rescue tubes would be ideal “with a line back to the beach”.

Others have suggested inflatable rescue boats, and encouraging lifesaving training for residents.

Nick Mulcahy from Surf Lifesaving New Zealand spoke to the LFRRA last September at its annual general meeting about strategies to keep the public safe around the Lake Onoke mouth, beach front, and the lake itself.

At the time, Mr Mulcahy acknowledged the drowning of Mr Wong the year prior, and as a result of the coroner’s report, made clear the need for a more robust plan on water safety.

These included having a formal emergency plan, installing one or two life buoys in appropriate locations, and putting an education programme into place.

Less than four months after this meeting, Mr Hombrebueno, a father of four was swept out to sea at Lake Onoke and died.

Mr Cameron said there used to be search and rescue equipment at Lake Ferry and that if the gear was available, and someone on the beach was confident enough to use it, then that could help save a life.

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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