Francie survivor rescued by teens 'looked like he was looking at Jesus'

Francie survivor rescued by teens 'looked like he was looking at Jesus'

A group of teenagers are being hailed heroes after helping with the Kaipara Harbour rescue efforts.

An afternoon of fun on the dunes quickly turned into a major life-saving operation for 18-year-old 4WD enthusiast Jackson Knight and his mates.

They first noticed some debris washing in, then realised a full-scale rescue mission was underway.

"All of us didn't want to believe it was real," he says.

They spotted something in the surf, and soon saw it was a survivor of the Francie.

"We ran over and grabbed him, he was gassed" says Mr Knight. "He just looked like he was looking at Jesus."

Iripa Iripa had been stripped of his clothes and was left clinging to two life jackets and a coffee flask, too exhausted to drag himself up the beach.

They gave him some clothes, food and water, and took him to a paramedic.

"We got him warmed back up and then we were just happy that he was alive really. I don't know how he did it, he was just a trooper."

Two more survivors were dropped off by the rescue helicopter, but not all of them came in alive.

Seventeen-year-old Max Hindley was among those who helped bring in the bodies.

"We ran over and we realised it was on, and we just started helping pull them up to a more discreet place.  And then we started doing rounds up and down the beach."

They wish they'd been able to assist more of the men.

"I was just really hoping to find someone else in the surf with their hands up, but no one," says Mr Hindley.

The sea was rough and they were fighting against time. The tide was coming in fast.

Jackson Knight says he'd only just bought his Toyota Hilux on Friday night and it was the first time he'd taken it out.

"Everything happens for a reason," he says. "Lucky we stayed in the dunes as long as we did and didn't come home sooner."

They helped carry the lifeguards' gear, kept the survivors warm in their trucks and stayed with them while rescuers headed back out to sea to search.

They helped to save three lives that day, but they wouldn't call themselves heroes. Their thoughts are with the families of those who didn't make it home.

From here on they say they'll forever scan the beach that little bit harder, looking for those in need of a lifeline.