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This year, there were two recipients of a Police Association Bravery Award, presented at the annual conference in Wellington last month by rugby legend Sir Brian Lochore.

Above, Sir Brian Lochore with the 2017 bravery award receipients Constable Darren Critchley, left, and Senior Constable Ross Andrew.

Sir Brian has previously sat on the Association’s Bravery Award Panel. He said it was important to honour bravery in policing and to acknowledge that police officers were in their role 24/7.

“When people are running away from danger you have to have the courage to go towards it and to make quick decisions under pressure,” he said before presenting the award to Senior Constable Ross Andrew and Constable Darren Critchley.

Police Association President Chris Cahill said the two men made immediate and, as it turned out, heroic decisions when the mundane quickly turned to life-threatening.

“The officers not only displayed quick thinking, but extraordinary courage to put their lives at risk to rescue others,” Mr Cahill said.

“To be awarded the Bravery Award is the highest honour we can bestow on our members, and I am tremendously proud to be associated with two officers who performed so outstandingly.”

Descent into gorge to help hurt truckie

The first odd thing Senior Constable Ross Andrew noticed as he was driving through the Manawatu Gorge about midday on a gloomy July 8 last year was a cloud of “dust” in the air.

“It was getting whipped up by the wind and then settling on the ground. It was white,” he recalls.

What Ross was seeing was milk powder that had burst from bags being carried by a truck and trailer unit that had crashed through a barrier. It had careened about 50 metres down the steep-sided gorge coming to rest half submerged near the riverbank.

As Ross rounded the next corner, he saw people peering over the edge of the ravine, looking helplessly at the mangled trailer and cab which had two people in it.

He was immediately in rescue mode and decided he must get down that cliff. “I’ve done a bit of hunting in my time and I was fairly sure I could get down there if I was careful.”

As he picked his way down the cliff face, he could hear the woman passenger calling for help. About halfway down he realised he could go no further without the risk of falling into the river himself, but a member of the public was able to throw down a rope, secured to a railing, so Ross was able to complete the descent.

When he reached the truck, he was able to wade across the partly submerged chassis of the trailer, which had parted company with the container it had been carrying, to reach the cab.

He helped the distraught woman out of the vehicle and took her to the rocks nearby, giving her his SRBA vest for desperately needed warmth. It was midwinter, they were both wet and there was a biting wind.

Ross then went back to the injured driver who was partly trapped below the waterline. “I got his head out of the cab through the driver’s side of the smashed-up door and then I managed to get him up onto the roof of the cab. He was in a hell of a lot of pain and not mobile, so I couldn’t move him to the shore.”

Ross realised he wasn’t going to be able to get the man off the truck and that they would have to wait for the rescue helicopter.

“I lay down next to him, telling him to hang on and that I would stay with him. I basically, for want of a better word, spooned him to try to keep him warm.”

For nearly an hour, Ross used his body to shield the badly hurt man from the chilling wind. “The driver was conscious and talking, so I was glad about that. We lay there together, watching bags of milk powder being washed away down the river.”

Meanwhile, his colleague Constable Simon Ashton had arrived at the scene, bringing blankets and staying close to the passenger on the shore.

After a while, Ross was aware that hypothermia was setting in. “I realised it, but I was not too concerned for myself. I knew that, if necessary, I could get up and leave, but the driver couldn’t. He had cuts, bruises, broken bones and internal injuries.”

Relief came in the form of a skilfully piloted rescue helicopter and crew, who winched up the passenger and injured driver to the waiting paramedics as wind and rain buffeted the chopper.

“My job was done,” Ross says. “I thought I might climb back up the cliff, but I got winched out too. The pilot was amazing, how he managed to hover in the air so carefully as people were winched up.”

The driver and passenger, both aged in their 40s, were taken to hospital, as was Ross to be treated for hypothermia. “They put me in a bed and wrapped me in a special blanket that they pumped hot air into. Once I started to warm up, it felt pretty good.”

Just over a year later, when he found out he was to receive a Police Association Bravery Award for his actions that day, the 43-year-old Central District scene of crime officer says he was “ecstatic, speechless, blown away and humbled”.

Reflecting on the events, he says, he would not have done anything differently.

“No one else who was there was going to go down that bank, but we are police and that is what we do.”

Ross, who joined Police in 1999, aged 5, has since resigned from Police and is this month moving to Niue with his partner to run the Namukulu Cottages accommodation business.

Over his career, he says, he’s been involved in many incidents, but none as significant as that day in the Manawatu Gorge.

Daring off-duty ocean rescue

Constable Darren Critchley has lived in the Far North for 20 years, not too far from the Hukatere entrance to the famous Ninety Mile Beach. It’s a beautiful place and, despite its remoteness, is popular with tourists.

Unfortunately, it can also be a perilous place to swim.

On a hot sunny day last December, a group of three young German women entered the water there and pretty quickly found themselves in trouble.

Darren, a highway patrol officer, had just finished his shift and was picking up his son, Jayden, 14, from the bus stop down the road from their home when he heard an alert on the radio saying there were people in trouble in the water at Hukatere.

His heart sank. Two years earlier, Darren had been called to a water rescue in the same place where a teenage boy had drowned and his body was not located for four days. Darren acted as the family liaison officer and was a pallbearer at the funeral.

“It was absolutely heart wrenching,” he says. “This is a very dangerous beach. There is a rip and a hole there.”

He asked Jayden if he would attend with him this time and help if first aid was required.

By the time they arrived, two of the women had made it back to shore. A male German tourist, unconnected to their group, had gone in to try to rescue the remaining woman, but, he too had got into difficulty in the rip.

“Some of the locals told me they could see the guy’s head and pointed out to sea,” Darren recalls. “When I saw the state of the sea, I thought, that’s a big ask to go into that water. The waves were huge.”

But the nearest surf rescue team was more than 30 minutes away and the rescue helicopter was at least 40 minutes away – too long to wait.

The 51 year old knew he was “taking a bit of a risk”, but he turned to his son and told him: “Mate, I’ve got to go in. Keep an eye on me and if I get in trouble, use the radio.”

Stripping to his undies and securing a life jacket and surf board, which he tucked under his right arm to use as a flotation device, he headed into the water.

“It was really rough. I was being smashed by the waves and pushed back.”

When he finally reached the exhausted swimmer, “all I could see was his hair floating on top of the water. He was going under”.

Darren got hold of him and, as he did, the panicked and fatigued man grabbed the board. “I told him to hang on and that it was going to be a rough trip back. We got tumbled over a few times before we reached the shore. He was very thankful and told me that he had been a lifeguard in his younger days, but that he had struggled in that sea.”

People on the beach told Darren they had caught a glimpse of the woman in the water. “I told them to keep pointing to where she was and I would keep looking back to follow their directions.”

He struggled back out through the pounding surf till he saw her. “I got out there with the board and then I saw her in a wave. I could see that she was drowned.

“I was in tears… I realised I couldn’t save her.”

He got her on to the board and gave her mouth to mouth for a few breaths before he swam back to shore with her. “She was only 23, about the same age as my daughter.”

As the paramedics took over, it was still not over for Darren. “I knew I had to find her friends and tell them what had happened.”

They were totally distraught, as was Darren.

He’s had Police-provided counselling since, but there’s no getting away from the fact that such an intense and tragic situation changes a person. The young woman who died is part of him now.

It was a haunting experience. “As police, we deal with death all the time. This was different. This was very personal to me and I still think about that young woman every day and have to deal with the regret that I couldn’t save her.”

Now, Darren is a on a mission to convince the regional council to get warning signs put up at the beach.

Darren immigrated to New Zealand from Lancashire in England with his family when he was 15. He had always been a good swimmer and when, at 21, he went on his OE back to Britain he ended up working as a lifeguard in Preston. Then he joined police there for 5½ years.

During that time, he was involved in the recovery of the body of a young boy who had drowned in a local river and he received a Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society Award for his actions.

“I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I was young and fit and didn’t think it was too much of a big deal.”

Twenty-five years later, however, when he looked out at the sea at Hukatere on December 14 last year, it was a different story and not just because he was that much older.

Darren had returned to New Zealand in the mid-1990s and joined Police in New Plymouth before moving to the Far North. In the late 90s, in Kaitaia, an offender driving a stolen vehicle ran into him, knocking him over and leaving him with a fractured spine. Following surgery and a drawn-out recovery that made it difficult to keep his fitness up, he made the hard decision to leave Police in 2001.

For a few years he ran a garden centre business, but he eventually realised he missed policing and his mates too much and rejoined in 2004, ending up in his current highway patrol job.

Darren’s injury and the long stints behind the wheel of his patrol car meant he piled on the kilos until it got to the point about two years ago, he says, when he decided it was time for a change of lifestyle, which included giving up beer and cutting back on the calories.

By the time he found himself at Hukatere that day, he was 30kg lighter than he had been a couple of years earlier.

Had he not shed the weight, he may not have felt able to do the rescue. As it was, he was still worried: “It was a big call for me to go into that water, but I knew I had to do it.”

Darren says he has been humbled to have the events of that day recognised by the Police Association and to hear people say that he did a good job.

As the drama played out, his wife, Constable Rowena Jones, was back at the police station in Kaitaia, knowing that there was a water rescue under way and that it was her brave husband who was out there and her son waiting in the patrol car on that deceptively beautiful beach.

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