Wainui teenager Jack Virtue's fitness and lifeguard training were put to the test on Saturday when he saved three children from drowning at Wainui. He passed that test with flying colours and police said averted a tragedy.
Jack, an off-duty teenage lifeguard rescued three children from the surf at Wainui Beach on Saturday afternoon and police say he averted a multiple tragedy.
The children, a boy and a girl aged 9, another girl aged 11, and a young woman aged 19, got into trouble at about 3.45pm that afternoon.
Riversun Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club lifeguard Jack Virtue was sitting in his car at The Pines carpark when the drama unfolded in front of him.
“The four of them had been playing in knee-deep water when suddenly they were swept out by a rip,” Jack said.
The 18-year-old jumped out of his car and ran down to the beach, stripping off his clothes down to his shorts as he went.
“They were spread out in the water by the time I got down there so I decided to go for the two children who were closest to shore first.”
The boy and a girl were about 40 metres out, just past the shore break, and a metre-plus onshore choppy surf was running.
“I only had to swim a few strokes to get to them, but we were way out of our depth, so I grabbed one by the hand and then the other by the hand and towed them back to the shallows.”
At that stage other beach goers started to arrive, including some people who had been at a yoga class at the surf club and had heard Jack calling out.
“I handed the children over to one of them and she helped them the rest of the way back to the beach,” Jack said.
Then he ran about 100 metres along the shore to where the other girl and the young woman had been taken at least 100 metres offshore by the rip.
“They were in the surf by the reef in front of the northern end of the pines. I swam to the young woman who was closest to shore and calmed her down when I got to her.
“She told me about her younger cousin who was further out. She was floating OK so I told her I would go out further and get her cousin then grab her on the way back,” Jack said.
“In surf lifesaving they teach us to prioritise, so in that circumstance I had to think what to do. I knew that that woman was at least capable for another five minutes or so,” he told Radio New Zealand in an interview this morning.
Some waves came and she was able to make her own way ashore while Jack swam out to get the third child, who was about 30 metres further out.
“She was lying on her back, coughing a bit and calling for help as I approached her.
“I explained I was a lifeguard and she calmed down. She was really good. I must admit it was bit scary because I wasn’t sure how we would go getting back through the wave line, but it all worked out OK.”
The people on the beach called 111 and police and a St John ambulance were sent to the scene.
“It was awesome the way the other people came to help,” Jack said.
He was asked on radio this morning how he was able to do it.
“I think adrenaline kicked in, like it’s really happening, I’m really by myself, there’s nothing really else I can do, so I’ve just got to get it done.”
All four victims were taken to Gisborne Hospital by ambulance for a check up. They were all treated and discharged that evening.
“One of them was suffering from the effects of hypothermia but while they were cold, the others were all right,” said Sergeant Dean Plowman.
“Jack Virtue acted very well indeed. We’re so grateful that he was on the spot and was able to respond the way he did,” Sgt Plowman said.
“There is no doubt Jack averted a multiple tragedy and he should be commended for what he did.”
Patrols at Wainui have not started yet for the summer.
“We don’t start full patrols for another fortnight so it was very fortunate Jack was at the beach,” said Wainui surf club president Salve Zame.
“He has been one of our top junior lifeguards for a few years now. He’s always been mature and has developed into a very competent lifeguard.
“If it had not been for Jack’s skills this incident could have had a very different outcome. What he did was what he has trained for.
“The whole club is very very proud of him.”
The Year 13 student at Campion College has finished high school apart from final exams and plans to attend the New Zealand Maritime School next year. Jack is the son of Gavin and Jenny Virtue from Wainui.
“He’s really fit and really active which really helped but the rescue still put his body to its limits,” his mum told Radio New Zealand.
“Jack said his legs were just burning with the kicking as he swam but he said the adrenaline had kicked in and he was doing what he had to do.”
Mrs Virtue said witnesses have said the whole group could have drowned.
“The family are all unbelievably proud. We’re just in awe of him and how he just doesn’t hesitate. He’s just so compassionate and caring.”
His mother summed things up when she said, “Those people are so lucky Jack was there”.