'He was a dead man': Man lost at sea after Google Maps shortcut goes wrong

·Assistant News Editor

A New Zealand man who got swept out to sea after a Google Maps shortcut gone wrong has a piece of errant driftwood and his iPhone X to thank for saving his life.

Remopita Pongi, 29, was lucky to be rescued on the weekend after spending hours floating in freezing water, clinging to a log.

He had been on a long walk to his mum’s house, and after checking Google Maps, he thought he could shave considerable time off the journey with a watery shortcut.

He decided to swim across a tidal estuary opening onto the Bay of Plenty at the top of the north island, The New Zealand Herald reported.

In no time he was about 2.5 km out at sea.

After realising the tide wouldn’t drag him back to shore, he knew he had to do something. Astonishingly, he checked his iPhone X in his pocket and it was still working so he called emergency services.

The club captain of the nearby Whakatane Surf Life Saving Club, Craig Julian, was working when the unlikely rescue call came in.

“We often get some weird ones,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “This was a weird one.”

The policewoman on the other end got straight to the point. “There’s a guy lost at sea, here’s his phone number. Given him a ring,” she told him.

So he did. “I ring the guy up and say are you alright?” Julian recalled.

“Nah, I’m in the water, I need help,” came the reply.

“I thought oh s***,” Julian said. “The water is 15 degrees over here,” he added.

Three hours bobbing about in freezing water

About 20 minutes later lifesavers were able to locate the man at sea with the help of his directions. They located him about the same time as a fisherman on a jet ski happened across him bobbing in the water.

“He’d been in there for three hours which is quite remarkable,” Julian said. “Most of us probably would’ve panicked to death.”

Despite suffering from stage three hypothermia, Mr Pongi was pretty relaxed about the situation according to the men who found him.

“He was a dead man really, I don’t think he had much longer,” Mr Julian told Yahoo News.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, the 29-year-old Kiwi explained how he got stuck in such a life-threatening predicament.

Argument leads to man’s 80km walk

He had spent the previous night on a nearby beach after an argument with his brother left him stranded. The next morning he faced a seriously long 80km walk to get to his mum's house in the suburb of Kawerau.

And that’s when he came up with his shortcut idea, which quickly turned dangerous.

"I was just paddling along, and the waves were getting a bit carried away and I happened upon a piece of wood," he told the Herald. "I just grabbed on to that and floated."

Thankfully, his phone was sill able to make phone calls when he found himself floating at sea.

"I just pulled it out and it was still working.”

A satellite image of the estuary between Ohiwa Beach and the suburb of Ohope on the other side.
The man was reportedly trying to swim from Ohiwa Beach across the estuary at Ohiwa Bar to Ohope on the other side. Source: Google Maps

It was the same story Craig Julian received following the rescue. “He looked at his map and thought I want to get home and so I’ll swim across the estuary,” he said.

Although the lifesaver captain admits the man’s story “changed a bit throughout the day.”

In the end, everyone was just happy the iPhone, and therefore Pongi, had survived the ordeal.

“I can’t believe the story has crossed the ditch,” Julian joked.

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