Weekend pushes drownings to 30

By Jimmy Ellingham, Regan Schoultz

Another horror weekend on the water has seen this year's drowning toll hit 30 after two people died and three were taken to hospital.

Water Safety NZ's running watch on drownings stood at 28 on March 7 and two more can now be added.

It's still slightly down on the equivalent time last year, when 35 people had died. In 2015, 113 people drowned.

A 47-year-old man died in a diving incident off Mathesons Bay at Leigh, 21km east of Warkworth, yesterday morning.

And on Saturday, a 63-year-old man drowned north of Napier when his boat flipped on a crayfishing trip.

On Friday evening, an 18-month-old boy was rescued from the Hauraki Gulf after falling from a wharf on Rangiahua Island, near Great Barrier, and is critically ill in hospital.

A 3-year-old girl rescued at the same time has been discharged from Auckland Hospital's Starship Children's Health.

In the Leigh incident, the man was pulled from the water and died soon after.

Emergency services rushed to the scene about 11am after the man's dive party raised the alarm. The man, whose name has not been made public, participated in a safety briefing before the dive.

Another man from the group, who took part in the rescue, was flown by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter to hospital in a serious condition.

North of Napier, the 63-year-old man left shore with a friend and workmate about 3pm on a trip only meant to last a couple of hours.

By 10pm, worried family members contacted police and the Hawkes Bay Coast Guard and Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter mounted a search.

The Hawke's Bay Today reported that the upturned, 5.8m aluminium boat was found by the helicopter near rocks, about 5km north from Waipatiki Beach.

The man's body was found on nearby rocks, while the 65-year-old survivor was located about midnight.

He was flown to Hawkes Bay Hospital, treated for hypothermia and later discharged.

"The conditions were good, they were experienced people and they had all the safety equipment," Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt said.

"Whatever happened, happened quite fast."

Mr Shadbolt said the boat had lifejackets, but the men weren't wearing them.

The dead man's body was left on the rocks overnight and collected yesterday morning.

A relative of the man said the family were in shock.

"He loved fishing - anything really - he is a great guy."

It's been a tragic start to the month on the water.

Last weekend Igor Petrenko, 31, and Gena Sibaev, 55, died when diving for crayfish off Great Barrier Island.

And in Wellington on Monday, a 37-year-old woman died during a 45-minute dive with her husband on a snorkel trail 300m east of Island Bay beach. Two men came to her assistance and performed CPR but the woman couldn't be revived.

Boating safety tips

• Wear a life jacket.

• Take two communication devices.

• Check the local marine forecast.

• Don't drink alcohol.

• Act within the limits of the boat and your experience.

Source: Water Safety NZ

Preparation key to yachtie's high-seas rescue

A Northland yachtie winched to safety, after abandoning his sinking vessel and floating in a dinghy for two hours 180km off Northland's coast, reckons preparation was the key to his survival.

Steve White, 48, of South Head on the Kaipara Harbour, circumnavigating New Zealand solo, knew he was in trouble when he heard a loud bang on the fibreglass hull of his 50ft yacht about 5.30pm on Saturday. It was dark and he was 180km offshore from Kaitaia. His final destination was Whangarei marina on Wednesday.

Yesterday, he recounted the high-sea drama, saying he never feared for his life as he was well prepared to survive at least a week on a liferaft.

"Definitely have a GPS device that emergency services can locate so they don't have to search a huge area," he said.

Hitting the unidentified object in the darkness jolted him awake. Immediately he returned below deck to find water coming through a hole. He started stuffing pillows into the gap but soon realised he was "fighting a losing battle".

He activated his emergency locator beacon and prepared to abandon ship. Letting down the sails stopped the yacht and he loaded the life raft into a dinghy and gathered his "grab bags" of emergency gear and food. Mr White had a secondary emergency device he also activated. The inReach two-way, satellite communication device allowed him to send and receive messages to mobile numbers.

He texted his wife telling her to let emergency services know this wasn't a false activation.

Mr White inflated the life raft, attached it to his dinghy and tied the kayak on to make himself as visible as possible to rescuers.

Northland Electricity rescue helicopter pilot Dean Voelkerling said the crew flew to Kaitaia, refuelling before heading towards the yachtie to winch him off.

Mr White praised his rescuers for being efficient and professional.

Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman John Ashby said Mr White did everything right.

"He did all the right things, had all the right equipment, and did everything he could to help save himself."

- NZME

- NZ Herald

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