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

Raglan bridge drowning a tragic accident, inquest hears

A teenager has told of the moment he jumped from the Raglan footbridge and landed on top of Richard Keremeta, knocking the 16-year-old back under the water to his death.

Richard drowned despite frantic efforts by friends and family to find the Raglan Area School pupil following the accident at Te Kopua footbridge in the Waikato seaside town, on February 8 this year.

The 17-year-old Hamilton man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told a Coroner's inquest into the death he felt his knee strike Richard's head as he landed in the water under the bridge.

He told Coroner Gordon Matenga at the Hamilton District Court he thought Richard had been carried by the current under the footbridge when he leapt off.

It wasn't until he was in the air that he noticed Richard coming up for breath from a jump he did just seconds before.

The teenager did not know Richard, did not realise the Raglan local sank after the collision and was in shock as he tried to tell associates he thought he had landed on someone.

It was the first time the teenager had jumped off the bridge, a popular spot for doing "bombs" into the water near the entrance to Raglan Harbour.

"It happened in a split second. I was hoping Richard wouldn't die."

But when questioned by Richard's father, also Richard Keremeta, the young man could not explain why he did not immediately look for the person he had landed on.

A crowd gathers on a jetty at the edge of Raglan Harbour. Photo / Alan Gibson
A crowd gathers on a jetty at the edge of Raglan Harbour. Photo / Alan Gibson

He said his associate suggested he had landed on a nearby kayak but Keremeta said the same associate came running across the footbridge yelling "Call 111, someone's been injured".

The pair had an intense exchange during the hearing as Keremeta questioned the teenager about whether he could have pulled his son out of the water.

"Why didn't you call for help?" Keremeta asked. "How long were you searching for him?"
The young man replied: "I was just in shock when I was in the water".

Grandmother Tani Keremeta, who raised Richard from a baby, said he was a kind and loving boy.

"I can't understand how you could have walked away and left him there. He wouldn't have done that if he was in your situation," she said.

"He would have helped you. He was experienced at jumping off that bridge. He had been doing it for years, sometimes three times a day and something like this had to happen to end it for him."

She said Raglan was the love of her grandson's life.

"You took that away. I just wanted to give you a piece of him and what he would have done."

Earlier in the inquest Richard's childhood friend Rangimaria Rongo broke down as he described frantically searching for Richard after the collision.

The 21-year-old said Richard was just coming up for air from a jump when the other teenager landed on him.

Rongo said he watched as Richard's head was slammed into his chest, but he did not know it was Richard at the time.

Once the group, which included Richard's sister, father and cousins, realised their "little bro" was missing, Rongo began diving in the murky water to find the teen.

"When I realised I panicked and I tried my hardest to find him. I dove straight to the ground and went along the ground a couple of times. People were calling the ambulance, some were trying to dive under and look for him. We were just trying to save our little bro."

But it was 10 minutes before Richard was found and brought to the surface. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Coroner Matenga said it appeared to have been a tragic accident, and in his 19 years as a Coroner in the region he could not recall such an accident ever happening before.

"People have been jumping off that bridge for years."

He said it would be impossible to stop people jumping off the footbridge but asked what safety measures could be put in place to prevent another death.

Rongo said "locals" knew the area so well, where rocks were and the best places to jump and his advice was for out-of-towners not to copy Raglan residents.

Before the hearing could proceed Matenga called an adjournment, the reasons for which are suppressed. The inquest will continue at a later date.

- NZ Herald

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