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Mussel diver makes six-hour swim to safety

Coastguard and police have described diver Ian Foden’s survival as “extremely lucky”.

On Tuesday night, the 59-year-old became separated from his boat and had to swim more than 5km to shore in choppy seas.

And instead of taking a well-earned rest, he immediately helped to free a boat belonging to one of the volunteers searching for him that had become stuck on a dangerous sandbar.

Then he was back out in his boat – which his wife Bubs and coastguard helpers had brought to shore – to pick up mussels he had attached to a buoy for safekeeping when he realised he was in trouble.

But yesterday there was another sting in the tale: The mussels Mr Foden had planned to enjoy on Christmas Day were off the menu because of a toxic shellfish warning.

Mr Foden, from Little Waihi on the Bay of Plenty coast, said he never feared for his chances during his six-hour swim in the 2m swells, and was prepared to spend days in the water if necessary.

“It was no bother. I just wondered if I was going to be as good as that guy Hewitt.”
Mr Foden, who runs the Bledisloe Holiday Park with his wife, said thoughts of former All Black Norm Hewitt’s brother Robert – who survived more than 72 hours in waters off the Kapiti Coast – went through his head as he kept his eye on lights on the shore.

Mr Foden, a veteran diver with 35 years’ experience, swam and drifted with currents for between 5km and 7km before making it safely to the coast at midnight.

He was about 3km off the coast from Maketu, which is around a headland from Little Waihi, when he became separated from his boat, and eventually made his way ashore at the Kaituna Cut, 2km north of Maketu.

The drama began about 6pm when Mr Foden surfaced after diving for mussels at a reef called Town Pt and saw that his boat had come loose from its anchor on the rocks.

His wife was aboard and spotted him, and they yelled to each other, but she could not get the 4m aluminium craft to her husband before the currents separated them and she lost sight of him in the swell – then about 1.5m.

After searching unsuccessfully, Mrs Foden raised the alarm and asked the coastguard to help get the boat to shore, as her husband usually took the helm and she was inexperienced in sailing longer distances.

But she didn’t panic and told the coastguard she was confident her husband of 37 years would be able to get to shore.

However, the Maketu Volunteer Sea Rescue and two private boats began a search about 9pm, joined soon afterwards by the Tauranga Coastguard and police.

Maketu coastguard Shane Beech said Mr Foden was “extremely lucky” because conditions were worsening and the swell increased during the three hours they were searching.

“We were suspecting the worst.”

Mr Foden, meanwhile, had tied his haul of mussels to a buoy and prepared to make the journey to the coast.

He discarded his weight belt but kept his breathing gear and dive bottle, to conserve energy if the swells got bigger.

When Mr Foden arrived at the Kaituna Cut he felt neither cold nor tired, then saw a local fisherman – who had been searching for him – had got his boat stuck on the notorious bar.

“He was out trying to help me so the only decent thing was to try to help him,” Mr Foden said.

He waded on to the bar, pulling the fisherman’s anchor into deeper water to drag the boat free as the tide came up.

This took about an hour, then Mr Foden went back to the holiday camp, where other campers were anxiously awaiting his arrival.

“I had a bloody good beer when I got back.”

His biggest concern during the ordeal was his wife, who he feared might have come to grief taking the boat back to shore.

He was proud of how she had handled the situation and the couple wished to thank the coastguards and other volunteers who helped bring their boat in and search for Mr Foden.

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