Beach victim lived life to full, says grieving father

By Genevieve Helliwell

A tight-knit family is mourning the loss of a cheeky, fun-loving young man who filled his life with fishing, hunting and friends.

Te Puke man Bennett William James White died at Rogers Beach, near Otamarakau on Sunday evening, after leaving one group of friends on his motorbike to help another set long-lines further down the beach.

It is unclear how Benn died but police believe he had a crash before being swept out to sea.

Benn's body was found just before midnight about 2.5km away where his bike lay partly submerged.

His family have described the 26-year-old as a bright, ambitious man who lived life to the full.

"His life revolved around fishing and hunting," his dad Tim White told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"I was hugely proud of him and what he had accomplished and what he had done.

He lived an extremely full 26 years and he really enjoyed himself. He was always happy, I don't think he ever had one depressed day in his life," the former police officer said.

"I will certainly miss him a lot."

Benn was born and raised in Te Puke and attended Te Puke High School before becoming a butcher.

A career change then saw him pursue a job in geology.

Benn's aunty, Jane White, said her nephew worked for global drilling company Webster Drilling and Exploration and spent time in New Zealand and overseas doing seismic drilling.

When he was home, Benn lived with his dad on their Te Puke farm, or stayed with friends.

As a young adult Benn worked for about two years alongside Grant Curtis of Bay Fishing Charters. The pair had fished together for about five years from the East Cape to the far north.

Mr Curtis said Benn was "the best deckie" he had ever had.

"He was a true friend. He's like a son to me," Mr Curtis said.

"He would have your back through thick and thin and we had a special bond because we spent so much time together out at sea. He was an old soul and before his time but he was also very witty and cheeky and he had a real sense of humour."

Mr Curtis said himself, Benn and about a dozen of their friends went to Rogers Beach on Sunday after a weekend fishing at Mayor Island. Mr Curtis said Benn had gone to help the girls set the long line further down the beach.

It is believed Benn crashed on his way back. When he didn't return, Mr Curtis and their friends went looking and found Benn's motorbike lying on its side in the water.

They phoned police who spent about three hours searching before his body was found.

Western Bay of Plenty road policing Sergeant Wayne Hunter said police were awaiting the results of a post-mortem to determine the cause of death but it was likely Benn had crashed and the tide had taken his body out to sea. Mr Curtis said Benn died doing something he loved.

"The sea took him and gave him back, as he deserved.

"This is going to have a huge impact on everyone who knew him. He was a gentle soul but a real Kiwi bloke. He was a very humble guy, very wise for his age and he was hugely loved."

Bennett's funeral will be held at The Orchard Church in Te Puke on Saturday, February 2 at 11am, followed by a private cremation.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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