Emergency services were called to a capsized boat in Ngawi, where the community came to the rescue. PHOTO/LIFE FLIGHT

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

A man who played a key role in the rescue of two men trapped under the hull of a boat in Ngawi on Friday is keeping humble about his efforts, saying he was simply doing a job that needed to be done.

Ngawi residents, including volunteer firefighters, joined forces to save the men who were in their 70s after the boat they were on capsized.

The men, who are Ngawi bach owners, were trapped underneath the upturned boat for at least 20 minutes, breathing from a small air pocket.

The son of one of the trapped men was also onboard but he managed to swim to safety not long after the boat overturned just before 10am.

Tony Lancaster had left his bach to find some truck ties when he pulled over at the bulldozers.

“I was looking out to the ocean, not taking much notice, and a guy pulled up beside me on a quad and said, ‘did you see that a boat rolled?’.

“I asked ‘when did that happen?’ and he said, ‘about a minute ago’.

“He pointed out where it was, and I shot around there.”

After speaking with people gathering at the scene, Lancaster ‘gapped’ it back to his bach on his quad and got his friend to rustle up his scuba gear while he put on his wetsuit.

“I threw my flippers on and I snorkelled out to the boat to see what was needed.

“By this stage there was a row of people, four on each side of the boat, holding it steady.

“I found out there were two guys trapped in the hull, and the other guy had managed to swim out.”

Those securing the boat could hear the trapped men banging.

Lancaster, with 27 years’ diving experience, knew it was race against the clock.

“Time was a factor – there were two guys breathing a small amount of air in the hull.

“They were going to run out of air eventually and hypothermia would have set in sooner or later.”

He powered it back towards shore and was met by a person delivering his scuba gear.

Lancaster donned his gear and, back at the boat, saw a man’s hand through the hatch.

He grabbed it and, with a bit of effort, pulled the man out.

“I shot back down and tried to feel for the second man through the hatch.

“I couldn’t see anything, so I went back to the surface and yelled for a torch.”

It was shone through the hatch and the man outstretched his hand.

“I tried to pull him out, but I lost grip of him.”

A second attempt was successful, and the man was pulled to safety.

Others involved in the rescue took care of the patients, with Lancaster saying “my job had been done so I just swam back to shore”.

“I left them to it and went home and had brekkie.”

Lancaster, who lives 15km from Palmerston North in Glen Oroua, bought his bach at Ngawi in 2015 after being a regular visitor to the fishing village for 25 years.

He said the rescue was a real team effort and it would not have been successful had it not been for the great community response.

“There was a bunch of other people who were standing in cold water for 30, 40 minutes.

“I had a wetsuit on. They didn’t.

“I just played my part and it was lucky I had my scuba gear with me.”

As serious as the ordeal was, Lancaster said he did not think twice about assisting and had no time to be scared.

“I just did a job that needed to be done, and I just hope someone would do it for me.”