Police believe alcohol was a factor in the near-drowning – at 10 o’clock in the morning.
Two men were swimming and got into difficulty while a third, who entered the water to assist them, ended up in trouble as well.
Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said a tragedy was likely averted, thanks to swift action and the concerted effort of several local residents, who rescued the three men.
Pitt said two men were taken to the hospital for observation; the more serious one took in a lot of salt water. They were safe but hospitalised yesterday.
Alcohol was believed to be involved in this incident. However “police are not confirming the hows and whys at this stage”.
Police got the call around 10.15am, and the Lady Kai rescue boat was deployed.
A local business operator from Kavera helped retrieve the three, who were brought ashore and attended to by a waiting ambulance and medical staff.
Sean Wichman from Adventure Cook Islands said he received a call from the police at 10.48am, asking for their assistance in the rescue mission.
Within minutes Wichman and his colleague Patrick, who were preparing their boat for a diving lesson later yesterday, were at the scene.
“When we got there, there were some local residents who were already in the water assisting the three with the kayaks and whatever they could find to keep them floating,” Wichman said.
Pitt said local help was already in the water by the time police officers arrived at Rutaki after 10am. He said one of the men was a visitor and the other two from Rarotonga.
Democratic Party Titikaveka MP Selina Napa said the near drowning stresses the importance of warning people, especially visitors, against venturing out into the sea in bad conditions.
“My deep thanks to the locals who saved these tourists from near tragedy,” she said. “These Cook Islands visitors are very fortunate that the locals were nearby and knew what to do. It’s horrifying to learn that alcohol was involved amongst those that got into really serious difficulty. This could’ve so easily ended in tragedy.”
“People, whether Cook Islanders visiting or others need to understand and fully appreciate that our beautiful lagoon can be deceiving to those who don’t understand the currents and tides, to stay safe, listen to local knowledge and take an experienced local guide with you with the conditions are uncertain.”