Sea conditions, limited experience contributed to fatal capsize

By Zaryd Wilson -
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The mouth of the Patea River. Photo/ Bevan Conley
The mouth of the Patea River. Photo/ Bevan Conley

Conditions were too rough for a boat Stuart Reginald Symonds had limited experience in, an inquest into the Hawera man's death has found.

Mr Symonds drowned at Patea Beach on the morning of February 12 this year when the boat he was skippering capsized at the Patea River bar.

The 54-year-old was borrowing the four metre fi-glass fireball, a boat he'd been on before but never skippered.

He and colleague Elton Tutauha launched the boat on the Patea River and warmed the engine up before heading to the bar to go fishing in the open sea.

A witness said he saw Mr Symond's boat attempt to cross the bar.

It got through three waves before being capsized by a fourth.

The pair swam for about half an hour towards the north side of the river mouth.

When Mr Tutauha last saw Mr Symonds, he was about 15 m from shore and indicated he was okay.

But next time he looked Mr Symonds has disappeared and was later spotted 30m out to sea.

With the help of others Mr Tutauha managed to drag Mr Symonds ashore where CPR was performed. But he did not recover.

In Coroner Tim Scott's decision released this week he said the sea conditions were too rough for the relatively small boat.

"Probably because of relative inexperience (Mr Symonds) made a significant error if judgment in attempting to cross the Patea River bar when he did," Coroner Scott said.

"The two men however were wearing life jackets and accordingly they had a reasonable chance of survival even though the boat capsized on the river bar.

"It is not possible for me to determine exactly why (Mr Symonds) was unable to reach the shore although he had apparently given (Mr Tutauha) the thumbs up or an all is well signal when he was very close to it."

Coroner Scott made no recommendations and said nothing more could have been done to rescue Mr Symonds.

But he said "river bars especially on the west coast of New Zealand are inherently dangerous.

"A great caution is needs to be exercised when crossing them particularly if in a small boat and if relatively inexperienced in boat handling."

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