Kayaker rescues wheelchair athlete after unexpected dip

In the swim . . . Paddy O'Donnell, of Dunedin, with the small craft he was tipped out of while boating on Lake Wanaka. By Dave Smith
Wanaka: A kayaker towed Paddy O'Donnell 1km to safety yesterday after a boating mishap dumped the Dunedin paraplegic into Lake Wanaka.

"I just hung on to the side and he paddled to shore," Mr O'Donnell (37) said.
After rescuing Mr O'Donnell, the kayaker returned to the sinking boat to keep it afloat until help arrived.

He acted independently of police who launched a rescue boat after two schoolchildren raised the alarm when they saw emergency flares fired by Mr O'Donnell and boating companion Mac MacFadgen, of Cromwell.

The two men had borrowed a Wanaka friend's two-person, outboard motor-powered CeeVee craft about 2pm and headed off around Eely Point, near Wanaka.

A quick turn about 1km offshore overturned the boat, tipping the pair, who were wearing life jackets, into the water.

Mr O'Donnell, an international-class wheelchair sprinter, said he fired off three emergency flares after they had righted the boat and tried to start the engine.

"It then started sinking, so I fired off another three rounds."

Onshore, two alert Cromwell College pupils, Tim Brown (15) and Tim Jopson (15), who were in Wanaka on a field trip, spotted the flares and immediately told their teacher, who rang 111.

Soon after the emergency call, a lone kayaker appeared from Bremner Bay and towed Mr O'Donnell back to shore, while Mr MacFadgen (35) stayed with the half-sunken craft before a jet-boat from Lakeland Adventures picked him up.
A philosophical Mr O'Donnell could see the humour in their watery adventure once back on dry land.

Asked if he could swim, Mr O'Donnell replied "I can now."

He was grateful to the kayaker: "I was thankful he turned up out of the blue because after spending 20 minutes in the water I was getting pretty cold."

Meanwhile, the Wanaka police had commandeered a larger boat from Vern Hill and Jayne Christy's Lake Wanaka Cruises tourist operation to head out to the scene.
Its rescue activities were restricted to towing the sinking boat back to shore.

Constable Cam Sigley, of Wanaka, praised the efforts of Lake Wanaka Cruises and especially the unknown kayaker.

Wednesday, 4-December 2002