Construction workers and a lifeguard from a nearby swimming pool ran to the aid of a man in trouble in the ocean off Marine Parade.
However, they weren't quick enough. The man drowned in the high swells this afternoon.
The construction workers at the Napier War Memorial Conference Centre were first to spot something was wrong. They saw something floating in the water about 3pm.
"As we came down the steps we heard a woman scream and run towards the water. We went out on to the beach to check if she was okay and as we got closer she yelled for help."
The worker, who did not want to be named, then called 111 and was told to stay on the line until emergency services arrived.
"My colleague then waved to Ocean Spa while I stayed on the line to get a lifeguard," he said.
Amy Giddens was the lifeguard on duty and said she ran and got a rope and then headed to the beach.
"Kirsten who started her shift at 3 was already in the water so I gave her the end of the rope but it was too short to reach him.
"The waves were also dumping and at that point it looked as if he was already gone as he wasn't struggling."
The Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter soon arrived and winched the man from the sea while police kept onlookers away from distraught family members.
Luke and Jess McLean had just arrived from Brisbane on a cruise when they came across the scene.
"We only hopped off to get an ice cream and then we saw the chopper and a body floating in the water. It was pretty crazy," Luke McLean said.
"I feel like bringing up my ice cream after that, it was very intense. The woman on the beach was wailing."