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Auckland surfer who wrote ‘HELP’ on West Coast beach reveals Hollywood movie-inspired rescue call

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In his final moments of consciousness after being smashed against the rocky cliffs of Auckland’s west coast for three hours, Ben Searancke admits he resorted to a survival guide from a Tom Hanks movie.

Remembering the Hollywood movie Cast Away he watched a few weeks earlier he plowed “HELP” in the sands of Mercer Bay in Auckland. And then he passed out.

His legs were slashed to the bone and his lungs were blocked with seawater. He had a surfboard leash tied around one leg like a makeshift tourniquet.

The father of a week-old baby told the Herald on Sunday about his ordeal on February 17 when he went surfing on the deserted beach of Karekare.

“Honestly, it’s because I watched Cast Away. I’m serious,” Searancke said of his desperate scribbling in the sand.

“Kiwis are kiwis, I know they might just pass and I was desperate. If they walked right past I would be drunk so I thought if I wrote HELP and they looked at me, that will surely engage them enough to do something. “

For the three hours before his arrival at the beach, Searancke struggled in the choppy water, pounded against the rocks between Karekare Beach and Mercer Bay.

His leg leash had come off his surfboard as he dove under a big wave shortly after paddling around 11 a.m.

“I wasn’t really panicking because I thought I could get in,” he said.

Ben Searancke wrote
Ben Searancke wrote “HELP” in the sand at Mercer Bay on Auckland’s west coast before pretending. February 17, 2021.

“Then I raised my head and was 500 yards around the north end, which was nothing but boulder. I tried to start swimming back to Karekarei but just couldn’t.

“I was looking around and all I could see was just swell hitting rocks and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to swim.

The 43-year-old quickly realized how great he was.

“I had nothing. I was in the middle of the ocean. No beach in sight. No people in sight. Then I was pushed towards rocks with heavy water,” he said. .

“A wave grabbed me and threw me against the rocks and I covered my head and had scratches all over my body, but I felt my leg go very violent. I think I did. I finally managed to climb up and I looked at my leg. and my bone was showing on the right side. “

Searancke said he spent about an hour on the rocks resting, but was still stranded and unable to get past the cliffs.

His bleeding leg was getting “really bad” so he used his surfboard leg cord, which was still attached to his ankle, as a makeshift tourniquet.

“[I was] was bleeding and getting pretty cold, and every time I thought I was almost there, there was like a point between the rocks where you couldn’t move, ”he said

“So I had to make a call to try to swim. I looked at the waves, I timed, and I looked a dot on the first one and I went, I just have to go.”

The effort of scrambling from rock to rock and swimming point to point nearly ended in Searancke’s drowning.

“I crashed into the rocks, on top of my head. I felt a little dizzy, I was held there long enough to start to think it’s over, it’s definitely over, then I struggled to get up, ”he said. .

“This time my brain was definitely going. I could see my daughter, I could see my missus and I was going “that’s it”.

“Then I finally made it to Mercer Beach and sort of realized that shit, there was no one here. I don’t even know if there’s a way out of here. I started to feel like I was going to pass out. “

Mercer Bay is surrounded by rugged and unforgiving terrain.  Photo / Supplied
Mercer Bay is surrounded by rugged and unforgiving terrain. Photo / Supplied

Fortunately, Searancke thought he noticed people walking along the coastal tracks in the distance.

“I wasn’t sure if my mind was playing tricks on me, but I was sure I could see someone shaking because I was shaking so hard,” he said.

“But they weren’t really looking, so I just started screaming and waving my arms. Then I could kind of see them waving, but it was more like they were just saying” hey “.

“Honestly, I had watched this Cast Away movie two weeks ago and it wrote help in the sand. I did it the best I could, and then literally when I got the P, I collapsed, trying to stay conscious. “

Friends Dace Kalnina and Vanessa Ingraham spotted the injured surfer on a secluded beach and sounded the alarm.  Photo / Supplied
Friends Dace Kalnina and Vanessa Ingraham spotted the injured surfer on a secluded beach and sounded the alarm. Photo / Supplied

The two Searanckes alerted were Karekare residents Vanessa Ingraham, 36, and her friend Dace Kalnina, 32, who were hiking a coastal trail.

Kalnina said they didn’t realize Searancke had real issues once he finished the P in the sand.

“We yelled at him, but because we were so high and it was windy, we couldn’t quite understand what someone was screaming back, but he saw us and waved at us.” , Kalnina said.

“He waved to us as he lay down on the sand, so we realized it was serious.”

With the help of the women, surf lifeguards from the United North Piha Surf Club arrived around 4 p.m. and were rushed to hospital where he remained sewn up until 1 a.m. the next day.

“There are stitches in both legs. I’m happy to be alive but I’m in a lot of pain,” Searancke said.

“I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t sleep at all last night because of the pain, that’s why I went back [to the hospital] this morning [Saturday]. So they put me on very heavy medication. I sweat like a maniac. “

Despite all of this, relief is the overwhelming emotion that reigns in Searancke’s Mt Albert home as he recovers alongside his wife Jenny Brown and 9-day-old daughter Sylvie Hariata.

“She [Jenny] was just worried. We have so much to look forward to, ”he says.

“We are building a house in Mt Albert, we are building a bach in Whangamata, we have a new daughter, we have so much to hope for and she is just happy that I am alive.

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