Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

'Spiritual' tennis coach's drowning ruled accidental

Paul Arber
Paul Arber

The death of a talented Australian tennis coach, who disappeared in Hamilton late last year and was found drowned in the Waikato River, was accidental, a coroner has ruled.

Paul Arber was in the city on December 7 with students for a series of tennis tournaments when he wandered away from the group.

His disappearance sparked a five-day manhunt and a plea for help from Mr Arber's Melbourne-based parents, who flew to Hamilton to help find the 38-year-old. Coroner Wallace Bain said it appeared Mr Arber's drowning was a "tragic accidental death".

Toxicology reports showed Mr Arber did not have drugs or alcohol in his system but witnesses who encountered him over the course of eight hours reported unusual behaviour.

That included telling people he "loved" them, that he wanted to "be one with nature", and that "we're all the same, no one is perfect".

He gave money to a homeless man and stopped to pat a dog.

Mr Arber's father, Sam, said his son had recently become more spiritual and a vegan and Dr Bain said it appeared Mr Arber was taking a holistic view of life. Sam Arber said his son did not show any signs of depression in the months before his death and never had in all the time he had been his son's GP.

Dr Arber and his wife, Richelle, wanted a no-swimming sign put up in the spot where Paul disappeared, under the Victoria Bridge, to warn other tourists of the strong undercurrents in the Waikato River.

Paul Arber was spotted standing topless and at knee-height in the water near the bridge about 4am on December 8 by a couple who told him the river was dangerous and he should get out.

They tried to help him find his accommodation but when the woman used her cellphone to search Google for his lodgings, Mr Arber told her mobiles were bad. He said he would be all right and returned to the water.

"His parents think he planned to meditate and sun-gaze at sunrise in a natural, peaceful setting," Dr Bain said in the report on Mr Arber's death.

His body was found floating in the river on December 12 by a group of rowers from Hamilton Girls' High.

"This was a tragic accident and very sad loss of the life of a very talented Australia tennis coach who had played at the top level and who in all respects on the information before the court was a very respected and much loved young man," Dr Bain said.

The court did not make a formal recommendation for signs after Hamilton City Council said that, as with any body of water, it was the individual's responsibility to make sure they could swim within the conditions.

- NZ Herald

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