Sienna Newbury,12, said she felt like her brother’s life depended on her as she tried to save him in the rip. Photo / Supplied
In an instant, a beach day for a mum, her 5-year-old son, her 13-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend almost turned to tragedy after they were caught in a rip.
Thanks to the heroic actions of one lifeguard and the quick thinking of an off-duty lifeguard, they were able to narrowly escape the fate of dozens of other Kiwis this summer.
Louise Newbury is now pleading with people to use caution and stay diligent, even if they are a confident swimmer.
The Waiuku local had taken her five-year-old son Charlie, her 13-year-old daughter Sienna and 12-year-old friend Taylah Beveridge to Karioitahi Beach, something she had done “every other day” since Christmas.
The two older girls played in the waves, while Louise held young Charlie’s hand. All four of them were knee deep between the flags under the watchful eye of lifeguards.
It was here that their day almost took a turn for the very worst.
“My little boy was holding my hand, and then the next minute a wave just came and it literally threw us right to the back, past the two older girls,” Louise recounted.
She was out over her head, treading water and desperately trying to keep terrified Charlie afloat at the same time. Trying to swim to shore, she found it was impossible.
“I held my son over my head so that when the wave came back it wouldn’t knock him over,” she said.
But it was futile, they were both dragged under.
“I used to be an air hostess, so I’ve done lifeguard training, which means I’m a pretty confident swimmer,” she said
“But there was no way that I could have gotten back in that situation.”
Louise could quickly feel herself losing consciousness due to exhaustion, and yelled for her daughter, who was a few metres ahead of her, closer to the shore.
In the nick of time, Sienna and Taylah were able to grab Charlie before Louise lost consciousness. Now they were all stuck in the rip.
Minutes later, as they struggled with Louise drifting in and out of consciousness and the two girls fought to keep themselves and Charlie afloat, a lifeguard arrived.
Using the life support rest, they grabbed Sienna and Charlie as Louise clung to his neck. Although the lifeguard’s boat was sitting at the back of the waves, it was unable to get to them due to the strong currents, Louise was later told.
Sienna was distraught trying to go back and save her friend, however, the lifeguard said an off-duty lifeguard was already grabbing her.
“He told us we weren’t going to go in just yet, he said he knew this rip well and knew when it would break and then we can go back in,” she said.
“We had to just keep hanging onto him until he eventually pushed us back through and took us back to shore.”
Back on shore, Louise fell unconscious again as Sienna desperately looked for her friend Taylah in the waves.
She had been dragged out further, past the breakers.
“She [Taylah] was in a bad way, she was screaming for help, saying please don’t let me die,” Louise was told later by her daughter.
Fortunately, an off-duty lifeguard swimming with his family sprung into action at the sound of Taylah’s pleas, grabbed her and brought her to shore a short time later.
“If it wasn’t for that off-duty lifeguard, I don’t know if my daughter’s friend would have actually survived,” Louise said.
Taylah recounted her terrifying experience to the Herald, and described the feeling of being inthe rip as “really rough”.
“I tried to help, but then I got drifted back,” Taylah remembered.
“It was really rough, it was really hard to swim. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Seeing the off-duty lifeguard was like a beacon of hope for young Taylah, who clung to his arm as he also helped another girl caught in the rip.
Sienna said she was extremely worried for her friend as the rip pulled them in different directions, as well as her young brother.
“It’s like my legs were tied like they were stuck, you couldn’t move, you couldn’t do anything,” Sienna said.
“It happened so fast, I felt like my brother’s life depended on me, so I had to save him.”
Louise also said the lifeguard who brought them safety had only just started that day on the beach. He came over from the United Kingdom as a part of an experience programme.
“That was his first experience at the beach on the West Coast and he managed to take all three of us into shore, so he did an amazing job,” she said.
She said if it wasn’t for him and the heroic actions of the off-duty lifeguard, she doesn’t know if any of them would have survived.
Louise now has an urgent plea to parents and caregivers at the beach, that even if you know what you are doing, you need to stay diligent.
“Even if you’re a confident swimmer, you just need to stick to the shoreline and you need to be keeping an eye out the whole time,” Louise said.
“The biggest thing for parents is that you can’t take your eyes off your kids, and don’t let them go out too far, even the older kids.”