'Brave' surfer was forced to let go of drowning swimmer

By Kieran Campbell

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

A "brave'' surfer who risked his life to save swimmers dragged out to sea was forced to let go of a young man to save the man's girlfriend.

Albert Alapati, 25, drowned as his girlfriend, Lucile Fruean, clung desperately to a surfboard in "extremely rough'' surf at Titahi Bay Beach near Porirua on January 14.

The couple had been swimming with their younger siblings when a rip dragged them out to sea.

The findings of Coroner Garry Evans, released today, commend Jason Wilson, who had gone to Titahi Bay Beach to surf that day and spent 10 minutes in the water trying to save Mr Alapati and Ms Fruean.

Mr Wilson was pounded by waves as he held on to Mr Alapati while Ms Fruean tried to stay afloat on his surfboard.

Eventually a wave "ripped Albert from his arms, forcing him to let him go and concentrate on saving Lucile''.

Mr Wilson said it took him five minutes to reach the struggling pair but 15 minutes for a rescue boat to eventually pluck Ms Fruean from the water.

He told the coroner he was disappointed by the time it took surf lifesavers to get to him and said he believed Mr Alapati may have survived if he'd been reached sooner.

However, the group was not swimming between the flags erected by the Titahi Bay Surf Life Saving Club, where five lifeguards were on duty.

"I don't know how much more I could have done,'' Mr Wilson told the coroner.

"The last time I got dragged under was when I couldn't hold on to the boy anymore.

"It was a case of lose one to save myself and the girl.

"I just did what I had to do.''

Mr Evans said: "It is plain to see that Lucile owes her life to Mr Wilson, whose valiant endeavours to save Albert's life were thwarted by the exceptional sea conditions prevailing at the time.''

The coroner heard evidence that Ms Fruean's mother had told Albert and his younger brother, Sae, they were not to go swimming on that afternoon.

The evidence was that Mr Alapati, Ms Fruean and their siblings were "just paddling around in the water and playing in the waves that were coming in'' before they were caught by the rip.

A surf lifesaving official told the coroner no one was swimming between the flags when the group entered the water. None of the lifeguards on duty had seen them.

Mr Evans found no one responsible for Mr Alapati's accidental drowning.

The coroner recommended a sign be erected "as soon as possible'' at the northern and southern ends of Titahi Bay Beach warning of the dangers of rips.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 22 Oct 2014 01:19:51 Processing Time: 362ms