Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

New Year's Day water tragedy

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A New Year's Day swim between rugby mates ended in tragedy yesterday after a 29-year-old man drowned at Kaiate Falls despite desperate attempts to save him.

The man who died at the popular Welcome Bay falls was with two friends when he got into trouble and started struggling in the water.

A friend of the deceased man, who did not want to be identified, said they had gone down to the falls for a swim to freshen up on New Year's Day.

He said his friend had been sitting in the water, "about waist deep - happily laughing".

"He went out to the edge and it [the water level] got up to his chest and then he could no longer feel the bottom.

"He started panicking, I was telling him to keep calm and tread water and ... when I realised he was in a bit of shit, I jumped in and tried to pull him back into shore.

"He was probably a good 5m from the rock surface where you could put your feet on.

"I was a metre away from him and I know when someone is at that point, you can't get too close to him because they are going to do what ever it takes to keep themselves afloat.

"So before I am actually getting into contact with him I am telling him, 'Don't push me down bro, I am going to help you.'"

The man said he tried diving under and trying to push his friend up from underneath.

"It got pretty hairy and I knew he was at a desperate point and he started pulling me down ... By the time I got him to the rock he was unconscious."

The two men then started CPR on their friend before others arrived and tried to help them, he said.

The man said he had met the deceased man on the rugby field about a year ago, and they had gone to the falls as he had never visited the area before.

"He was just a true, honest guy and would help anyone in trouble if he could help them."

The deceased man had not been a strong swimmer, he said.

Other visitors to the falls desperately tried to help save the life of the man with five others giving him CPR before emergency services arrived at the scene.

Pete Pearson was visiting the falls with his stepfather, Vas Onako.

"As we were walking down someone was yelling up someone had been hurt. We got down there and they were well into resuscitation," Mr Pearson said.

He believed others had been doing CPR for a couple of minutes before they got there and they continued for about 20 minutes before emergency services arrived, he said.

Mr Pearson said although he was scared and shaken when he arrived at the scene he knew he had to help.

"But everybody that was here jumped in, we took it in turns to do resuscitation. There were five or six of us on turns.

"Two guys doing mouth-to-mouth and the rest trying to massage his heart, yet there was no pulse."

Mr Pearson said the incident was a horrendous thing to have happened on New Year's Day.

His stepfather Mr Onako, who was a construction site manager in the United Kingdom with first-aid training, said when they arrived the dead man did not have a pulse. "We just keep going till the experts arrived, you can't stop you just keep going."

The police confirmed they had been called to the scene at about 1.30pm yesterday after a 29-year-old man got into trouble at a swimming hole near the falls.

In a statement, police confirmed the man died at the scene and they would be conducting an investigation on behalf of the coroner.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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