Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Holiday drowning toll down, but warning still out

Sergio Schuler (centre) and Will White with Waihi Beach lifesaving club captain Dave Litton. Photo / Christine Cornege
Sergio Schuler (centre) and Will White with Waihi Beach lifesaving club captain Dave Litton. Photo / Christine Cornege

Three people drowned in New Zealand waters this official Christmas holiday period - between 4pm Christmas Eve and 6am today.

While this is the lowest number of drownings for the Christmas holiday period since 2006-2007, Water Safety New Zealand says it is still three deaths too many.

"We had hoped to be announcing a zero holiday period toll today and it's incredibly sad that instead we're talking about three people that have lost their lives in the water," Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said.

"It's an absolute tragedy that three families will begin 2013 without a loved one."

Two of the deaths occurred while the victims were participating in water based recreational activities.

Oscar-winning sound editor Michael Alexander Hopkins drowned on Sunday in Wairarapa's Waiohine River when a wave of water hit the raft he was in, with his wife and another man.

And a man in his 20s died while he was diving in Whangaparaoa on Saturday. A group of five were diving at Matakatia Bay when one of the group failed to surface.

The third death occurred when 42-year-old Whakatane woman Lita Tarau entered the surf to help her son who was in distress.

Mr Claridge says while it is positive to see the number of deaths down on previous years - there have been on average ten drownings each Christmas during the past five years - the number of rescues indicate the toll could have been much higher.

Two 12-year-old cousins were hailed as heroes when they saved a man from drowning after he was swept out to sea by a rip at Bowentown Beach in the Bay of Plenty on Saturday.

Will White and Sergio Schuler are expected to meet the man they saved, a 32-year-old Aucklander who identified himself as Vincent, this week in Waihi.

"There have been a significant number of extremely close calls and if it wasn't for others putting themselves at risk - including surf lifeguards around the country and others like Will and Sergio at Waihi - the number of deaths would have been far higher," Mr Claridge said.

He said with almost a month to go until the end of the school holidays, all holidaymakers need to make water safety a priority, now.

"It doesn't matter what you're doing - whether fishing, swimming, boating or just relaxing beside the water - the water safety basics are the same.

"Watch the weather, keep kids within arm's reach, know your limits, don't drink alcohol if you're going out on or in the water and use the right safety equipment."

Parents returning to work also need to ensure that children likely to be spending time at swimming spots are well equipped to keep themselves safe.

Mr Claridge says if anyone needs reminding about how to keep safe in and around the water they should visit www.watersafety.org.nz and familiarise themselves with the water safety code.

"New Zealand has one of the highest drowning rates in the developed world - third only to Finland and Brazil - and this must change," he said.

"To reduce our shocking drowning toll we need all New Zealanders to learn to swim and survive and to take the necessary precautions when in and around the water. Only then will lives be saved."


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