Four men are being hailed as heroes after jumping into a chilly creek to rescue two people from a submerged car.
One women, Janice (Jan) Anne Fa’avae, aged 68, died in the incident at lunchtime on Saturday when the car she was driving with her husband and two year old grandson, went from Wildman Ave, over QEII Dr and into the creek.
She was the mother of multi-sport champion Nathan Fa’avae.
But the efforts of several members of the public are being hailed as “heroic” and emergency services say they saved two lives.
“They’ve got to take the credit for their bravery and just getting in and doing it. It wouldn’t happen in every town in New Zealand or every place in the world. I think Nelson really has to stand up and be proud there,” says Nelson Fire station officer Craig Davies.
“Jumping into a murky creek like that, not knowing what was in there and what they’re going to find in the car is an enormous task on any day. Imagine diving in that cold water and not being able to see? Even though the tragedy of the situation meant that one died, two have been saved.”
Paua diver Philip Walker, 53, told the New Zealand Herald that several attempts were needed to free Mrs Fa’avae, who was caught in the crashed car by her seatbelt.
Bitterly cold water and panic forced him to resurface several times.
“I was panicking and holding my breath and not doing it long enough and trying to get someone out before it was too late.
“You sort of think about what I could have done but I couldn’t do much else.”
He freed the woman by unclicking her seatbelt and pulled her out through an open front passenger door.
Two of the other rescuers were Nelson’s Gary Miller and Brightwater’s Kyle Paki Paki.
Sergeant Matt Elliott, of Nelson, says the efforts of the men were heroic and they had risked their own safety in attempting to rescue the family.
“I have no doubt their actions have saved the lives of a man and a young child.”
The two year old boy, Ali Fa’avae-Mika, was flown to Starship Hospital in Auckland and the man, Filemoni (Phil) Fa’avae, remains in Nelson Hospital. The incident has been referred to the coroner.
Craig says Nelson should be proud of the four men.
“I can’t say enough about their actions and what they did. We’re professionals and trained to deal with that sort of situation but for them to go in off their own bat takes a lot of courage. It’s good to know there’s people like that around.”