Remote community in mourning following death of divers

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"He was our hero," a Pourere resident has said about her good friend who lost his life diving to save another.

The woman who was upset and wished not to be named said Waipukurau man Roger Francis Nathan, 44, was a "nice, caring guy".

"It's been a tough morning, he was our mate."

The remote Central Hawke's Bay beach settlement of Pourerere is in mourning after a double tragedy in which one of its own died while trying to haul the body of a diver out of the water.

Mr Nathan had rushed out to sea to try and save 45-year-old Whakatu man Raymond John Cooper, who had had a leg amputated after a road crash in 1989 and was understood to have been diving with two others at the beach.

Mr Nathan was a former commercial fisherman's son who had been living at the beach.

Witnesses said that while there were significant numbers of divers at the beach yesterday, despite conditions which were not particularly suitable, the two deceased had not been together.

Mr Nathan had found the body of Mr Cooper and appeared to have let go and climbed on to a rock to catch his breath, but was washed-off and disappeared.It is understood Mr Cooper had set out for a dive mid-morning and had not returned.

Police and the Lowe Corporation Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter joined the search for him soon after 3pm.

Mr Cooper's body was found about two hours later and Mr Nathan's body was recovered about daybreak today.

The New Zealand police dive team had travelled from Wellington to the beach and after their initial recovery mission this morning had gone back out to sea mid-morning about 300-400 metres out to where the tragedies are believed to have taken place.

Retired Central Hawke's Bay Deputy Chief Fire Office Owen Spotswood who owns a bach at the beach said he had been told Mr Cooper had been missing for some hours before the helicopter arrived.

He said it was one of the safest beaches on the Hawke's Bay coast. During the summer divers arrive by the dozen, and yesterday's mild weather had meant many had come out.

This latest tragedy had taken the drowning toll in Hawke's Bay this year to four, the tragedy was the latest in a string of diving tragedies in the area, with many recorded dating back over a century.

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