A small jet boating community is "shattered" by the death of a "lovely, enthusiastic and friendly" colleague killed when the boat he was driving collided with a willow tree in the Ngaruroro River near Hastings at the weekend.

The man, Dale Baker, 51, of New Plymouth, was one of a party of three boats taking part in a sanctioned excursion on the river when the accident occurred about midday on Saturday, a statement released by Jet Boating New Zealand said.

"He had boated with other members on organised events for the past two years. He had previously boated the Ngaruroro River, as had the other jetboaters on the excursion, and was described by a fellow veteran Jet Boating New Zealand member as an extremely competent jet boater," said spokesman Paul Mullan.

Secretary of the Taranaki branch of Jet Boating New Zealand Pam Frederickson said other members were "shattered".


"We're a small branch, about 60 or 70 members. All of those who are currently active would have known Dale. He was such a lovely man. We enjoyed being involved with him.

"He was always willing to be involved in anything and everything. And his partner, Julie, they both were," she said.

She later added:

"Anything that we were involved in he was there, with bells on just about.

"He really enjoyed the events and camaraderie that we seem to have."

Ms Frederickson said Mr Baker had been "so looking forward to the weekend", to take part in the jet boating activity.

Mr Baker was an oil rig worker who would "participate in any of the events that we had" during his time on shore.

He was among a small group from the club that had spent the previous weekend jet boating on the Mokau River, and enjoyed sharing his love of history with his friends.

"When we were up the Mokau last week, we were looking at all the history of the mining and things that were on there, and he has been in that area himself quite a lot and he was very knowledgeable, taking us all to show us the bits and pieces of history that were available," she said.

Ms Frederickson said her husband and son were in another of the three boats when the accident occurred.

"They're on their way home now. We're all just so disappointed, but these freak accidents happen."

She said in the 30 years she had been involved with the organisation there had been no other fatalities that she was aware of.

"It's definitely pretty rare. It's a motorsport so it's always a possibility."

The father of two was driving the tail boat, named Bang On, upstream when it got into difficulty in shallow water and skidded across shingle and colliding with a willow tree.

Crew members of the two other upstream boats returned to the crash site to assist but Mr Baker was pinned in the boat and died at the scene.

Emergency services waded through the water to reach the injured parties including 43- year-old Leanne Lilly, also from Taranaki, who was airlifted to hospital by the Lowe Corp Rescue Helicopter.

She sustained neck and chest injuries and was in a serious but stable condition in the high dependency unit at Hawke's Bay Hospital yesterday afternoon.

Three other passengers, including Mr Baker's partner, sustained minor injuries and were treated at the scene.

Lowe Corp Rescue Helicopter pilot Jeremy Bruce said a locator beacon was also activated by the crew on the boat.

"They were all still in the boat at the time we got there, we landed on the gravel fairly close by and the paramedic and the crewman waded through thigh-deep water to attend to the woman in the boat."

He said Mr Baker was already deceased. "I think that was immediate, pretty much as soon as it happened. We had to leave him there for the police and the coroner to work out what happened."

National President of Jet Boating New Zealand Garth McMaster said the organisation was "devastated" by the tragedy.

"Jet boating, like many sports involving powered craft can at times be dangerous and accidents sometimes happen.

"The National Executive and all members of Jet Boating New Zealand are devastated by the tragedy and offer its condolences to the family at this time."

Inspector Hirone Waretini said yesterday that the Hawke's Bay police were acting on behalf of the coroner.

The incident had been referred to the Maritime Safety Authority.

"The deceased will go to post mortem tomorrow and from there we'll be liaising with the family to arrange a funeral service."

A spokesman for the Maritime Safety Authority said investigators had begun speaking with police. Additional reporting: APNZ