Fitzroy Surf Club

Five New Plymouth teens narrowly escaped drowning after being swept out to sea at Fitzroy Beach yesterday afternoon.

The group had been playing volleyball and decided on a change of pace so they jumped in the sea for a swim. Soon after entering the choppy windswept water, a strong rip took hold of them, pulling them out to sea and along the beach.

Only quick action by body boarders and surfers averted what the victims say could have been a very tragic day. One of the rescuers was self-employed builder Jason Buchanan. The 17-year-old had been body boarding with a friend when the group first got into trouble and was quick to get involved in their rescue.

"One girl asked me for my board so my mate Baxter took her in and I went out and helped the other four," he said.

Tom Jones, 17, said they had felt like their lives were in serious danger until Mr Buchanan arrived. "Thank God for that Jason guy. If he wasn't there ... well, it would have been much worse."

Emma Hayward, 16, said she had been swimming at Fitzroy for as long as she could remember and had never experienced anything like the rip that dragged the group out to sea. "We were just standing there up to our waist and then it came on so strong."

Surfer Johnny Mac, a lifeguard at New Plymouth's Aquatic Centre, had been watching the group from near the Fitzroy Surf Club. As soon as he realised what was happening he grabbed his longboard and went out to help along with two other surfers and the body boarders.

In the confusion of the rescues they believed there were still people in the sea even after they had seen everyone safely to the beach.

"The old heart went through the roof for a while there. We thought there were three other people out there so we stayed out looking for them. But you can't see much when you're out there," he said.