Beachgoers tried frantically to revive a 7-year-old boy found lifeless on the beach where he had been playing at a popular Northland holiday spot.
The child was discovered about 1.30pm yesterday with his head buried in a hole he had dug at Frog Town beach in Pataua South, near Whangarei.
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The district operations manager for St John Ambulance, Tony Devanney, said resuscitation attempts by people at the scene, teamed with paramedics who arrived by ambulance and helicopter, were unsuccessful.
"He was digging a hole and went down head first into the hole to have a look," he said.
"It collapsed all around him and pinned him in there.
"People there pulled him out of the hole and started CPR resuscitation. He was found deceased or lifeless. We arrived and continued the resuscitation for quite a while, unsuccessfully.
"It's horrible, it just happened while he was playing, as kids do."
Paramedics were flown to the scene of the accident by the Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopter, he said.
Residents at the popular holiday spot said it was understood the child was a local boy who had ties to an old homestead on iwi-owned land.
The accident occurred in front of the homestead on the Maori land, at the opposite end of the beach frequented by holidaymakers from a nearby campground.