A 9-year-old boy clung to his mother as she drowned in a rip yesterday.
He was pulled to safety by rescuers just as he started to slip under the water himself.
The boy and his mother were swept out to sea at Blackhead Beach in southern Hawkes Bay as they tried to get a fishing buoy about 12.30pm.
Witnesses saw the Palmerston North pair in trouble and rang a farmer who lives near the beach.
"I knew there was a boat just out the back of our place, and somebody had been fishing out there ... He was cleaning his boat, so I just rushed out there and said, 'Look, we've got a rescue on'," said the farmer, who did not want to be named.
"I skippered the boat, and the other two who were out in the boat earlier jumped on board as crew."
The mother and child were about 100m offshore and the men had to battle through surf and breakers to get to them.
"I would say, looking at what happened, the mother probably gave her life to the child. I think she obviously just got exhausted trying to hang on to him," the farmer said.
"All we could see was the kid, sort of semi-submerged, going under a couple of times. We positioned the boat, grabbed the kid and noticed he was actually hanging on to his mother."
The woman, who had not been named last night, was well below the surface.
"So as we were lifting him the other two managed to get their arms under and pull her on board too."
The men rushed the mother and son to shore.
"I had to actually give the helm up because the guys on board with me didn't know how to do [CPR]. We had to sort of go back out to sea to come back in, because of the waves. And once I got out of the danger spot, I handed the helm over to the owner of the boat. And I started CPR and we would have been going for over an hour until the helicopter arrived."
Hastings nurse Janine Palmer and her husband Bob, a fireman, were among a group of five who helped perform CPR on the beach after hearing about the rescue.
"It happened very quickly and by the time I ran down to the beach they were gone, swept well out," Ms Palmer said. "It seemed she was holding him at first and then ..."
The farmer said the little boy was "very, very" distressed.
"I mean, it was his mother. And we don't like losing our mothers at the best of times at old age, but when they're taken from you ..."
The boy was whisked away to the Blackhead Beach Camping Ground and given a shower and a hot drink.
"I was still doing CPR on the boat when they took the boy away," the farmer said. "He was perfectly okay - I mean, he was able to walk."
A Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter spokesman said the boy was conscious but taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital as a precaution.
"They were concerned about how much seawater he'd swallowed."
Blackhead Beach, a tiny settlement 40km from Waipukurau, has 60 baches and only a handful of permanent residents.
The boy's mother is the 17th person to drown this year, compared with 12 at the same time last year.
Over Christmas and New Year, 13 people drowned, the youngest 22-month-old Hannah Thomsen, who died in her parents' swimming pool in Marton, near Wanganui.
The average number of deaths per year for the past five years was 105, one the worst records in the developed world, according to Water Safety New Zealand.
- Additional reporting: Hawke's Bay Today