As Jinney Neale clung barefoot to rocks with a 5m swell lashing around her, Te Anau search and rescue member Stewart Burnby feared she would die.
Ms Neale and her partner, Daryl Hewer, had been attempting to sail from Dunedin on the east coast of the south island of New Zealand to Jackson Bay on the west coast this week but abandoned their boat in rough weather off Fiordland on the southern coast.
The Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand dispatched a rescue helicopter from Te Anau and, using night-vision equipment, the crew located the couple about 11.35pm.
Ms Neale was spotted on the rocks, while Mr Hewer was seen on the beach, near the grounded boat.
Mr Burnby said the helicopter was unable to winch them to safety. 'It was just impossible. Being night-time, [there was] bad vision and a lot of wind,' he said.
It was decided he would be winched ashore to assist the pair. The helicopter crew then retrieved sleeping bags from nearby Kisbee Lodge and dropped one to Ms Neale on the rocks, and another to Mr Hewer.
With the helicopter to return at dawn, Mr Burnby spent the night with Mr Hewer on the beach, 'extremely worried' about the safety of Ms Neale. She had wedged herself on to a 'wee ledge' on the far side of a rock and the pair could not see what was happening to her.
'I did not think she was going to live through it. I thought she would get washed off the rocks,' Mr Burnby said. He got Mr Hewer 'comfortable', wrapped in sleeping bags and out of the weather, and tried to let him sleep.
'Then it was a case of sitting and waiting until first light this morning.'
It was hard for Mr Burnby to do nothing, but he knew they 'had done our best' and it was 'just not safe for us to go in'.
They were finally retrieved at 5am yesterday and flown to Kisbee Lodge at Preservation Inlet, where Mr Burnby tended to Ms Neale's minor injuries before they carried on to Te Anau.
'It had a very good ending - better than I was expecting,' he said.
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