Sonya is a social issues reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

'We'll always remember Hamish'

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Mount Maunganui lifeguard Hamish Rieger. Photo/Jamie Troughton, Dscribe Media
Mount Maunganui lifeguard Hamish Rieger. Photo/Jamie Troughton, Dscribe Media

A Mount Maunganui lifeguard who lost his life spent his last day looking after beachgoers and had helped a 5-year-old child just hours before he died.

Hamish Rieger, 17, would have been starting his final year at Mount Maunganui College next month, but the young man was swept off the rocks near the blowhole at Moturiki (Leisure) Island by a wave on Saturday evening.

"He's a universally liked guy and there was never a dull moment with him around ... he was just that guy you could trust to find the bright side of a situation."
Friend Jonah Dobson

On Saturday, just hours before his death, Hamish was out on patrol when he treated a 5-year-old child who had been stung by a bluebottle jellyfish.

Jamie Troughton, spokesman for the Rieger family, said Hamish did a full day's patrol on Saturday.

"He was out there all day looking after everyone else, which sums him up."

Mr Troughton said Hamish was a "great young kid" and an integral part of the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service.

His parents Greg and Donna and his three siblings were also highly involved in the club.

"Hamish was a neat young guy. He was involved with a lot of sports and a lot of things around the community.

"He was a unique kid. No one had a bad thing to say about him ... He just wanted to live life to the max every day."

The search for Hamish Rieger's body. Photo/George Novak
The search for Hamish Rieger's body. Photo/George Novak

The Rieger family were "absolutely delighted" his body was located and retrieved, Mr Troughton said.

"In a horrible, horrible situation, that was probably the best case result."

Mr Troughton said the Rieger family were overwhelmed by the support of the community and of the lifeguards.

Read more: Patrol shift over, then teenage lifesaver dies
Teen missing at sea in Mt Maunganui

"They are humbled and just so glad to get Hamish back."

In a statement released by Tauranga Police, parents Greg and Donna thanked police and searchers.

"We really appreciate the efforts of our surf lifesaving friends, the police and everyone involved for bringing our son back to us," they said.

"Getting him back means a huge amount to us. Now we'd respectfully request space so we can concentrate on supporting each other through this time."

Moturiki and Mauao's base track were closed for most of yesterday morning and were re-opened at 1pm.

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service president Brent Warner said Hamish had grown up in a group of 30 to 40 young life guards of similar ages.

"A lot of them are hurting. This is a big shock for everyone."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand required lifeguards to take part in an annual proficiency programme, in which Hamish had reached the required levels.

He was also a member of Surf Life Saving New Zealand's elite event squad.

"We had no concerns about his proficiency."

The large swell at Mount Maunganui beach. Photo/George Novak
The large swell at Mount Maunganui beach. Photo/George Novak

Good friend Jonah Dobson described Hamish as "one of my closest, most trusted friends" who loved the beach.

"[He's] the most outgoing and energetic person I've ever met," he said.

"He's a universally liked guy and there was never a dull moment with him around ... he was just that guy you could trust to find the bright side of a situation."

Another friend, who did not want to be named, said he was "pretty devastated" about the loss of a mate he'd known since primary school. "Things haven't sunken in yet. It's unreal.

"He was a bit of a fitness freak, really. For the past two years he's been on this massive buzz and running and stuff like that. He did surf lifesaving but he didn't compete.

"As a senior he just volunteered at every event which I think is pretty massive. That's something that we'll always remember Hamish for is that he was the biggest volunteer, he always lent a hand."

Hamish went to Mount Primary School before moving on to Mount Intermediate and then Mount College.

It's with aching, weeping hearts we farewell one of our members, Hamish Rieger, who was swept off rocks on Moturiki...

Posted by Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service on Saturday, January 23, 2016

"Hamish was just real happy and always loved a good laugh, he was always wanting to make other people laugh as well. He could laugh at just about anything - no matter how bad the situation got Hamish would find a silver lining, he was a pretty happy camper."

The Mt Manganui Lifeguard Service has paid tribute to Hamish on Facebook, writing "it's with aching, weeping hearts we farewell one of our members, Hamish Rieger, who was swept off rocks on Moturiki Island last night".

"Our beautiful ocean can be a cruel mistress but at least she gave Hamish back to us today. To the Rieger clan, who have contributed so much to our club and our movement over the years, we offer our total, unconditional love and support ..."

A Givealittle page has been set up to support his family.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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