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Just hours after this photo was taken, a nightmare began.

It was meant to be a day of fun and celebration.

Seventeen-year-old Mitch Woolley had just secured a job as an apprentice marine systems engineer and he, along with his twin brother Denver and friends Nathan Phillips, Jason Lee and Sosi Turagaiviu went out to play paint ball on 3 February.

No one could ever imagine that just hours later the boys would encounter raging floodwater and that only three of the five would make it home alive. Mitch and Sosi did not survive.

The nightmare began when the teenagers decided to go swimming after their paintball session at Cascade Falls near Auckland. Shortly into their swim, the sunshine was replaced by storm clouds, and calm waters by a raging torrent as a heavy downpour fell.

So the boys got out of the water – but in the process had become split up on either side of the creek, Denver, Nathan and Jason on one side – Mitch and Sosi on the other. As the water rose Denver told the New Zealand Herald Nathan – who was stuck on a ledge with he and Jason – fell into the water and was swept downstream. He says at this point Mitch and Sosi ran down after him – and he never saw them alive again.

It wasn’t long before Jason and Denver were washed into the water too. Denver said he travelled downstream – thinking the whole time he was going to die – before he managed to grab hold of a tree.

“It was like whitewater rafting. Times three. There were logs coming down the size of trucks and wiping out every tree around me,” he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, his friend Nathan managed to escape the waters and alert two other people, who called emergency services.

Denver was still clinging to the tree when emergency rescuers found him two hours later, around 7.15pm, and winched him to safety.

But it was too late for Denver’s twin brother Mitch and his friend Sosi, who both drowned in the tragic event.

Three months on, Denver and his mother, Tracey Woolley, have sat down with the New Zealand Herald to promote and raise money to support the life-saving work of the Auckland Rescue helicopter crew who saved his life.

Tracey said she couldn’t thank the rescue team enough.

“Because what we’re going through is pretty rough. But it could’ve been a whole lot worse.”

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