Three teens rescued from Kawarau River after bystander 'heard screams for help', police urge caution outdoors

View of the Kawarau River from Gibbston, New Zealand.
View of the Kawarau River from Gibbston, New Zealand. Photo credit: Getty Images

Police are urging people to be careful outdoors this summer after three swimmers were rescued from the Kawarau River in Queenstown this afternoon.

Police were called to Rafters Road in Gibbston at about 3:15pm after three teenaged males attempted to go swimming in the river.

The trio entered the water upstream of Rafters Road and immediately got into difficulty, Area Prevention Manager Senior Sergeant John Fookes said on Wednesday evening.

One managed to get himself safely onto the rocks, however the other two were swept a short distance down the river. 

One of the two still in the water was able to get to a bank on the opposite side of the river, while the second was pulled out by a witness who jumped down to help.

"Due to the treacherous nature of the river, a rescue helicopter was dispatched and within half an hour, was hovering by each of the three swimmers and rescuer so they could climb aboard to safety," Snr Sgt Fookes said.

"This was an incredibly close call for the young men, and it was so lucky someone saw what was happening and heard the screams for help.

"A very short distance downstream the river hits the Nevis Rapids, which become grade 5 and are incredibly unforgiving. Had they been swept any further downstream, we would have been dealing with an entirely different scenario. 

"We urge anyone swimming in rivers, or exploring outdoors to do your research first, and treat the environment you’re entering with respect."

Police want to thank all those involved in the rescue, and the people who were so quick to raise the alarm.