Home      Contact

rescue searches Northland

Rescue at Waipu Caves – Sept 2007

Rescue at Waipu CavesBy Lindy Laird and Kristin Edge

A group of terrified teenagers had to dive underwater in pitch darkness to escape a flooded cave during a dramatic rescue near Waipu last night.

Rescuers battled for four hours to save the Auckland students who were trapped by a rapidly rising underground stream.

The six students and their instructor had been cut off by a flash flood three metres from the Waipu Caves main entrance about 3pm. A similar-sized group had safely exited the cave a short while earlier. Its instructor raised the alarm when the second group did not follow soon after.

About 60 police, rescue and fire personnel were on the ground during the drama, which took place in torrential rain.

Tensions at the scene heightened around 8pm when a call came from rescuers at the cave mouth that the situation had become critical. A fire engine pump that had been keeping the water level down was no longer able to cope with the rising torrent between the semi-submerged group and the cave mouth.

But within minutes the last of the students had made the plunge and swum underground through swirling, black water to safety.

When it was over, around 8.30pm, seven teenagers were taken to Whangarei Hospital and later discharged. Ambulance officers had treated them at the scene for mild hypothermia.

Northland Search and Rescue boss Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the rescue had been very intense but went smoothly. It had been a long, slow process because the party had had to be rescued one by one, he said. The instructor had been the last person out. “It was scary stuff because the kids had to swim underwater for the last three metres in the pitch black,” Mr Metcalfe said. They had handled it extremely well and been very brave.

Crews from five fire brigades were at the scene along with police search and rescue personnel, a specialist cave rescue squad and St John Ambulance.