James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Lake Tarawera tragedy: Dad's frantic final act

The kayak a father and daughter were using before they drowned on Lake Tarawera. Photo / Christine Cornege
The kayak a father and daughter were using before they drowned on Lake Tarawera. Photo / Christine Cornege

More details are emerging of a father's desperate attempts to save his young daughter before both died in a Rotorua lake yesterday.

The 40-year-old Aucklander and his 6-year-old daughter tipped into Lake Tarawera from a one-person kayak yesterday morning.

The little girl was wearing an adult-sized life jacket, but her father was not wearing one at all.

Their names were expected to be released early this morning, police said.

Constable Colin Fraser of Rotorua's search and rescue told Radio New Zealand the family were holidaying at the time.

"There were people on the beach who immediately went to their help, unfortunately they were too far out and by the time the help arrived it was too late.''

They were about 300-350m off the shore, Mr Fraser said.

The daughter's life jacket "slipped straight off her'' when she fell in the water.

"The dad, he grabbed at his daughter and was trying to hold her up and he called for help and he was trying to support his daughter for as long as he could but unfortunately help didn't get there in time.''

The water was about seven or eight metres deep, with about three or four metres of weed at the bottom of it, Mr Fraser said.

Family and others on the shore did everything they could to help, he said.

"A gentleman there who immediately started swimming out, another lady managed to grab another kayak and drag it down to the beach and headed out.

"But despite their best efforts it was just too late.''

The tragedy was a terrible reminder that even in perfect weather and on calm days, it was vital to wear appropriate life jackets when on the water, Mr Fraser said.

It was understood other lifejackets were available at the holiday home the man and his family were staying at.

A relative onshore, who captured the horror on a smartphone, apparently believed they were fooling around.

The video was later used to help police, coastguard and search and rescue teams co-ordinate the search for and retrieval of the bodies.

Family members and relatives who were waiting at the holiday home that overlooked the scene were too distraught to speak when approached by the Herald yesterday.

"We are very, very sad and very tired,'' said a female relative at the house.

The upturned kayak, a paddle and the the lifejacket were recovered first.

The man's body was recovered by divers about 4pm and hauled onto a coastguard vessel. Divers found the girl's body a little over an hour later.

Their bodies were taken to Rotorua Hospital for a post-mortem examination last night.

- NZ Herald

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