The Lower Hutt teenager who drowned after he was swept into the flooded Hutt River on Thursday was trying to rescue his friend who had slipped off a path into the water.

Rory Smith, 19, was reported missing at 10.30pm on Friday.

His body was found washed up at Karaka Bay near Wellington on Saturday morning.

It was initially reported by authorities that the teenagers had gone swimming - but Smith's father today told the Herald that was not the case.

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Wayne Smith was not ready to speak about his son, but he did want to make sure people knew the truth about his death.

He explained that Smith and his friend were walking through a park near Belmont School in Lower Hutt when tragedy struck.

"That park is partially lit by the motorway lighting and is quite visible at night," Wayne Smith said

"The river came up so far that it cut across the path, that's where they got into difficulty, in a corner of the park that wasn't well lit."

Wayne Smith said his son's mate slipped from the path into the water.

"He was in the water... he was holding on to a tree," he said.

"Rory came straight through to him and he fell into a massive hole."

Smith was swept away and his friend managed to get to safety and raise the alarm.

At the time the Hutt River was still very high with a fast-moving current.

An extensive search involving police staff, Wellington Land Search and Rescue, the Hutt Community Emergency Response Team, Upper Hutt Community Rescue, Wellington Coastguard, Wellington Harbour Rangers, and New Zealand Fire Service was carried out but Smith could not be found.

A police officer and her dog search the bank of the swollen Hutt River at the Belmont Domain, near where Rory Smith went missing. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A police officer and her dog search the bank of the swollen Hutt River at the Belmont Domain, near where Rory Smith went missing. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In a Facebook post announcing his sad news, Wayne Smith said his son's death was "just a stupid bloody accident".

Funeral arrangements were yet to be finalised, but the family hoped to farewell Smith on Thursday or Friday in Lower Hutt.

Smith had attended Taita College and, previously, Wa Ora Montessori School.

A spokesperson for Wa Ora also posted news of Smith's death on the school Facebook page.

"I have some very sad news. It is not something I would normally share on Facebook, but I have permission from the family concerned, and it seemed the best way to let people know," a school spokesperson posted.

"A past pupil of ours, Rory Smith, was the teen that drowned in the Hutt River on Thursday night.

"He tried to help his friend who was in trouble, slipped and fell, and was swept away by the rushing water."

Since 1980, 93 people have drowned while trying to save another person. WaterSafe chief executive Jonathon Webber said in most cases, the person in trouble that survives, and the would-be rescuer that drowns.

"We are lucky to live in a country where a people, are prepared to step up to the mark and make these heroic attempts at rescue," he said.

"We just want them to be able to return home to their families safe and well."

"Most of these people would still be alive today if they followed this one piece of advice; only enter the water if you have some form of flotation. You don't see lifeguards attempting a rescue without equipment."

Webber said that in many cases a rescue can be performed without entering water - throwing something to the person, or by only going out to waist-depth and reaching out with a branch or beach umbrella.

If purpose-designed rescue equipment such as a life-ring was not available, people should use improvised flotation aids such as a body-board, surfboard, rugby ball, chilly-bin lid, or even an empty 2-3L juice or milk container.

"Providing flotation to a person interrupts the drowning process buying valuable time to either plan how to get the person back to shore, or wait until rescue services arrive" he said.

Webber said in New Zealand there was good public education around what to do in an earthquake, but when it came to dealing with someone drowning we were "sadly lacking".

"Recent tragedies involving bystander rescues underline how important it is that everyone plays their part in achieving fewer drownings and thinking the 4Rs is a good starting point," said Webber.

The 4Rs of Aquatic Rescue

• RECOGNISE:
Notice someone in trouble
Check for danger
Ask "Are you okay?" The person may be unable to call out or wave for help.
Act quickly.

• RESPOND:
Provide flotation without delay
Improvised flotation aids are okay
Ask another person to call 111 so you don't lose sight of the person in trouble.

• RESCUE:
Your safety comes first
Rescue from land or craft is the safest
Throw a rope, or wade out to waist depth an extend a branch/pole
Only go further than waist depth with some form of flotation for yourself
Use the flotation aid as a barrier between yourself and the person in trouble so they don't grab hold of you
If you can safely return to shore do so, otherwise wait for help to arrive.

• REVIVE:
The person may require first aid/CPR when you get back to shore
If the person is not breathing normally, start CPR
If they are breathing, place in the recovery position
Make sure an ambulance has been called
Stay with the person until help arrives