Bridge boys rescue boaties


A couple plucked from Queenstown’s Kawarau River by four strangers are lucky to be alive after their jetboat sank.

The out-of-town pair were turfed out after the boat flipped and sank on Saturday afternoon.

One of the rescuers, Nick Whetter, reckons the outcome could have been very different.

“I don’t think they would have made it if we hadn’t been there.”

Whetter and his colleagues, from Speight Drilling, were working on the new $22 million Kawarau Falls bridge when they noticed a jetboat head up the river, go under the bridge and into Lake Wakatipu.

A few minutes later mate Paul Wallace stopped and pointed upstream.

Whetter: “We saw two bodies floating back down the river. There were tool kits, petrol cans and other bits floating down with them.

“I thought crikey … we had life rings on the platform so we grabbed those and rang 111.”

Joined by Kevin Speight and Jamie Edgar, the foursome tried to throw a buoy to the couple, who are in their late 60s.

“We couldn’t get it out fast enough and they floated past us. The guy was trying to call help - I don’t think the woman had enough energy to do that.”

The couple floated towards trees on the Kelvin Heights side of the river, and Speight clambered out on a fallen tree and managed to haul them out.

“The woman was very cold,” Speight says.

“They did have life jackets on which will have saved them. The lady said she went under a couple of times and swallowed some water.”

Back on dry land, the couple were taken to the McConnell Dowell bridge site and given a cuppa to warm up until St John paramedics arrived.

Whetter says they were close to hypothermia and in obvious shock.

The rescue took just over five minutes. 

“It’s just lucky we saw them and that it went well. We were pretty pumped with the outcome. I think it could have been different. 

“Even if they had drifted to the side they may not have had the energy to get out.”

The incident has prompted a warning about low lake conditions from Queenstown harbourmaster Marty Black.

He says the couple were “a little bit lucky”.

The boat “turned away”, he says, and was perhaps caught out by the current and went down the shallower third channel to the Kawarau River and rolled.

Black says boaties who aren’t familiar with that part of the lake should check with commercial operators, and possibly follow them down the river - or just stay clear.

“The lake and river are dropping down a bit now with the winter conditions and there’s quite a drop - there’s probably a half to three-quarters of a metre drop if you go down gate number two.”

He adds: “It can be a bit dicey if you don’t know where to go or what to do.”

The boat was recovered on Sunday by Queenstown diver Garry Wright, who says the boat was about five metres under.