Boy and uncle drown near Wairoa

By Corey Charlton, Sam Hurley

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The strip of coastline north of Wairoa where two people drowned yesterday, pictured at sunset last night. Photo / Duncan Brown
The strip of coastline north of Wairoa where two people drowned yesterday, pictured at sunset last night. Photo / Duncan Brown

UPDATED: A 7-year-old boy and his 22-year-old uncle who drowned at a beach north of Wairoa have been named.

Police said today the two were Sage Wi Smith, 22, of Wairoa and his seven-year-old nephew Kustom Michael Soljah Blandford, of Auckland.

The two deaths have now been referred to the coroner.

Meanwhile a helicopter pilot who helped to recover the boy's body near Wairoa yesterday says there was little rescuers could do when the boy was pulled from the surf facedown and showing no signs of life.

In the double tragedy, the boy and his uncle drowned yesterday after going into the sea to rescue a girl who ran into trouble when she fell into the sea off Iwitea Rd, north of Wairoa.

The girl was able to make her way back to shore and children with the group raised the alarm.

Gisborne-based Eastland Rescue Helicopter pilot and base manager Neil Dodds said last night family members of the two at the scene were "fairly distressed to say the least".

"It wasn't that flash down there," he said.

"A difficult one to put into words. We ended up taking the body and flying his body back to hospital so we could hand over to police there and could go back and search."

He said the boy was located about 20 metres out to sea by the crew after seven or eight minutes of searching between sea level and a height of 200m.

"Effectively our water rescue swimmer who we deployed today, who brought the child in, is also an intensive care paramedic. In this instance [yesterday] it was easy for us and close enough that he was just beyond the breaking waves so we deployed the swimmer from the beach.

"The swimmer swam out, located the child [and] basically grabbed a hold of him. He was face down, showing no signs of life. She decided rather than waiting to get back into the aircraft she just swam straight back. It was easier to just come back to the beach rather than the aircraft.

"We lifted the child from the breakers with our crew and lifted the child back to the aircraft, and there wasn't much we could do."

He said police should be praised for the way they ran the operation, which also involved a fixed-wing aircraft and the Hawke's Bay-based Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter.

"Whilst we took the child back to Wairoa the search was continuing so it was a very good use of resources."

Mr Dodds was unsure of the circumstances leading up to the drowning. He said there had been "mild surf" but locals said "it might have been a bit of a rip that got hold of them".

He said the body of the man was found by a group on quad bikes further south, shortly after the body of the child was recovered.

"He pretty much rolled in . . . right in front of them."

Sergeant Aubrey Ormond of Wairoa police said the man was a local farmer, while the child had family ties locally but was visiting from Auckland.

"The community will be in grief, it's a huge shock.

"There's an unveiling on Thursday and a family wedding on Saturday."

The boy and his uncle were part of the family group who were gathering at Iwitea Marae to prepare for the wedding.

A friend of the family said the mother of the boy was on her way to Wairoa from Auckland yesterday afternoon, after being notified of the tragedy at work. The unveiling on Thursday was for the father of one of the victims.

He said a number of family members from Australia had made their way to Hawke's Bay for the wedding.

He told Hawke's Bay Today sea conditions were not "bad" yesterday, but that the stretch of beach was "always dangerous".

"There was an on-shore wind, a bit of a surge, a bit of a swell, the beaches here are quite sharp and deep."

Police had to go across private land and "cross country" to gain access to the beach.

He said some family members had made their way back to the marae, while others were staying in Wairoa.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little described the incident as an "absolute tragedy".

"The community will be supporting each other in this hard time. It's just horrible and tragic for everyone involved."

Both deaths have been referred to the coroner.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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