‘Halfwits’ rescued from choppy Wakatipu

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Abandoned: A skiff is recovered from Lake Wakatipu yesterday. PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

A group rescued from Lake Wakatipu yesterday have been described as “halfwits”.

Four people got into difficulty due to bad weather and windy conditions. Three capsized from their plastic yellow skiffs. One wasn’t wearing a life-jacket.

Wayne Perkins, co-owner of Million Dollar Cruise, put out the “all stations” call and saw the man pulled from the water.

He says such incidents are frustrating and unnecessary.

“The forecast was gale-force westerlies and guess what we got? Gale-force westerlies.

“The Earnslaw couldn’t even sail at 12 o’clock because the wind was so extreme. Two or three of the commercial boats were damaged in Queenstown Bay.

“And you had four people who couldn’t be bothered to go on their phones to check what the weather forecast was.”

He says the group of three men and one woman set out on four plastic “skiffs”, not kayaks or canoes.

“It’s just so utterly frustrating that we have so many halfwits on the water.

“It just beggars belief that they went out when it was blowing. You are dealing with people who are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree.”

He was cruising along the Frankton Arm when he spotted them and offered assistance.

Despite being in the water they were reluctant to come on board and didn’t want to abandon their skiffs.

Two other commercial boats joined the rescue, including the Hydro Attack patrol boat whose skipper pulled the man out.

Perkins says the man not wearing a life-jacket was in “quite a bad way” before being “physically dragged over the side” of the rescue vessel.

“It is one of those things you just shake your head. It is just utterly frustrating.”

Hydro Attack co-owner David Lynott says the actions of his skipper might have saved a life.

“He did a great job. Part of our training is to keep an eye out for kayakers and other water-users. We are the professionals and have a duty of care to our passengers and anyone using the water.”

Queenstown Lakes district harbourmaster Marty Black doesn’t mince his words – he says stupidity is to blame.

While he wasn’t involved in the rescue operation, he was briefed after the incident. He also reported it to police.

“Life-jackets need to be worn and … use common sense. Don’t go out in bad weather. It was nothing too serious, thankfully, and they got to the shore unhurt. [It is] just people being idiots, just stupid.

“You need to check weather conditions, you need to wear a life-jacket. In certain weather, just don’t go out.”

The said the group were given a telling-off by deputy harbourmaster Dave Black and hoped they went home with their “tails between their legs.”

The foursome, Sean, Nathan, Daniel and Sarah, were reluctant to talk to the ODT and would not give their last names. They confirmed they live in Queenstown and are from the UK, three from Scotland and one from England.

Nathan, who was not wearing a life-jacket, and Sean were picked up by rescue boats and dropped off on the Kelvin Heights side of the lake, while Daniel and Sarah returned on their boats to the same point.

Sean says he was tipped out by a wave when he looked round to check on the others.

“I tried to get back in a couple of times. It’s much harder in deep water and the temperature zaps your energy. They [the rescue boats] were just passing, which was lucky. I tried [to get back in] a few times.

“We’d like to say thanks to them. We’ll take them in a box of beers. I’d tell others to be careful, don’t underestimate it, and wear life-jackets. It looks fine from here but it’s pretty choppy and cold.”

Sarah was worried not all of the group were going to make it.

It was the second incident reported to the harbourmaster yesterday. Marty Black received a call from a concerned father in Sweden whose son had taken a boat to Pigeon Island.

He then phoned his father to say he was worried about weather conditions. Black was able to confirm he was safe and told the father his son had made it to shore safely by himself.

For anyone who doesn’t want to take a dip in Lake Wakatipu Black’s advice is simple – if you are unsure, don’t go and if you do, always wear a life-jacket.

Yesterday’s incident follows the death of a 19-year-old man in Lake Dunstan near Cromwell earlier this month.

A 6-year-old girl, her mother and the man got into difficulties swimming in the Bannockburn inlet, in the Kawarau arm of the lake. The girl and her mother were rescued but the man drowned.

Two French tourists drowned while kayaking on Lake Wakatipu in 2010.

Otago Daily Times