No way out... so this is how it ends...

Boaties thought they would die when huge waves smashed their vessel on to the Manukau Bar.
By Anna Leask, New Zealand Herald.


Buzz Kronfeld, left, and Oisin Frost survived a treacherous journey to safety.
Photo / Brett Phibbs / NZ Herald / NZME

Clinging to their upturned boat, injured and being smashed by violent 6m waves, three Auckland boaties thought their time was up.

What started as a day fishing with mates on the Manukau Harbour became a fight to stay alive for Buzz Kronfeld, Oisin Frost - who was celebrating his birthday - and John Potter last Tuesday.

The trio set off in the morning and spent a few hours fishing before they started their return journey.

The experienced boaties had planned their day around weather forecasts, which predicted wind and swells in the afternoon, and radioed the Coastguard to let them know they were about to cross the Manukau Bar when things started to go wrong.

"We came off the back of a wave and we were picked up immediately by the next one," said Mr Kronfeld.

"The wave started breaking and we surfed straight down. The boat breached and rolled twice."

Mr Kronfeld was thrown 30m from the vessel and Mr Potter was another 20m away from him.

"There was a 130-litre chilly bin beside me," Mr Kronfeld. "I emptied as much water as I could out of it and swam it over to the skipper [Mr Potter]. He couldn't swim - he had a badly cracked pelvis."

Using the makeshift flotation device, Mr Kronfeld helped his mate of 30 years back towards the boat.


Their upturned boat on the Manukau Bar. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

Meanwhile, Mr Frost was fighting his way out of the boat. When it rolled he became trapped inside. "I was stuck in the boat, getting forced back in by each wave as I tried to get out. I tried to get a mayday call out but the radio was hanging by a wire," he said. "I knew I had to get out. I was in the hull running out of air."

With a deep gash to his head and blood pouring out, he managed to get free. But he could not see his mates.

"I hopped on the upturned hull and the guys were nowhere to be seen. I started yelling."

He then set about tying ropes on the boat into handles so he had something to hold on to when the waves thrashed him.

"Then I saw the guys about 30m away. Buzz [Mr Kronfeld] was dragging the skipper and they were getting smashed by the waves."

Once the pair were back at the boat they too grabbed ropes and hung on for their lives.

The damaged vessel started to float out to sea and the men began to fear they would not make it home.

"We were shaking, we were pretty cold," said Mr Frost. "We were looking to the heavens waiting [for a rescue helicopter] but there was nothing. I said my goodbyes. I said my goodbyes a couple of times, actually ... I knew the situation was bad.

"In that first half hour I was pretty convinced we were not going to make it through. I was thinking, 'There's probably no way out of this ... so this is how it ends?"'

When the men did not make contact within 30 minutes of logging their bar crossing, an alarm was raised. A rescue helicopter, two boats, the Westpac rescue helicopter and police Eagle helicopter were dispatched.

By the time the rescuers got to the bar, there was no sign of the men. Almost three hours later the wrecked boat finally started to drift back towards the shore but the stricken trio had no idea which shore they were headed for.

Their relief was enormous when they saw land but there was still a treacherous journey to safety - they had to get past the surf line where giant waves were thundering into the beach. "We had to get away from the boat ... We had to get away from it, we didn't want to be anywhere near it when we hit the line," said Mr Frost.

If they had stayed near the boat it could have slammed into them and seriously hurt or killed them.

Mr Kronfeld said the swell was "violent" as they tried to swim the last 400m to shore. "We all got in the water and the next wave, we were all separated. The last time I saw Potter he was lying on his back."

Mr Frost and Mr Kronfeld got to shore but there was no sign of Mr Potter. "I told Oisin to stay and look out for him and I would try and get help," Mr Kronfeld said.

The men had come ashore at Irwin's Gap south of the Manukau Heads. "I waited for 15 to 20 minutes but I was so cold. I was shaking so much, I couldn't see, I had to go ... " said Mr Frost.

The pair were sure they would not see their mate again. They were taken to a local farmer's to wait and Mr Kronfeld said a wave of euphoria washed over him when searchers said Mr Potter had been found alive.

Mr Potter was airlifted to hospital and had surgery this week. He will be in a wheelchair for about a month and then faces months of rehabilitation.

"But he's alive," said Mr Kronfeld.

"We are so very fortunate. It could have been very different. We did everything right, but the unexpected still happened. I don't know what to say to show how grateful, appreciative we are to the Coastguard, and everyone who helped in the search."


Rescuers cut hot deal on lifejackets

Without lifejackets there is no doubt the story of Oisin Frost, Buzz Kronfeld and John Potter would have ended tragically.

Mr Frost said their ordeal showed how vital lifejackets were.

"Our lifejackets definitely saved our lives. Without them, we'd be gone," he said.

They are backing Coastguard's Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade campaign, which starts today.

The offer is simple - bring your old, damaged or obsolete lifejacket to the Old4New team and receive a discount on a quality, fit-for-purpose Hutchwilco lifejacket.

Boaties and members of the public are encouraged to visit the Old4New van, which will visit major boat ramps and popular water areas over the summer, and trade in their old lifejackets.

The Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade forms a key part of Coastguard's advocacy for safe and enjoyable boating over the 2015/16 summer boating season.

In recreational boating surveys, 96 per cent of recreational vessel owners reported carrying lifejackets and 91 per cent thought they were important. However, almost one-third of vessels had no one aboard wearing lifejackets of any form.

According to Coastguard, most of the 43 boating fatalities last year and so far this year could have been prevented had the person been wearing a lifejacket.

Old4New was launched last year and aims to raise awareness of the importance of lifejackets while also taking practical steps to address the issue. At the end of the campaign, Coastguard will distribute to communities in need good-condition, traded-in lifejackets that still meet New Zealand safety standards.

Last year, more than 2700 old or unsafe lifejackets were traded in.


Five tips for safe boating

  1. Lifejackets - take them and wear them.
  2. Check the marine weather forecast before you head out. Use the Coastguard app for the latest marine weather and up-to-the-minute wind information.
  3. Take two forms of water-proof communication and give Coastguard radio a call to log a trip report.
  4. Become a Coastguard member - Coastguard really is your best mate out on the water.
  5. Be a responsible skipper - you're responsible for everyone on the boat, and for getting them home safely.
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