Tragedy at Tarawera

By Mike Watson

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LAKE TRAGEDY: Rotorua police and Lake Tarawera residents comfort family members of a man and his daughter who drowned when their kayak capsized out from the Bayview Road boat ramp yesterday morning. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER 011213SP16
LAKE TRAGEDY: Rotorua police and Lake Tarawera residents comfort family members of a man and his daughter who drowned when their kayak capsized out from the Bayview Road boat ramp yesterday morning. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER 011213SP16

A double drowning fatality on Lake Tarawera, which claimed the life of an Auckland father and his young daughter, was filmed from the shore by a relative on her iPhone seemingly unaware of the unfolding tragedy.

The boating deaths of the 40-year-old man and his six-year-old daughter while holidaying at the lake yesterday morning was the third serious emergency incident in Rotorua within 24 hours.

On Saturday night, a 17-year-old mother was in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital after being struck by a car while walking along State Highway 33 from a private party.

A 19-year-old man, understood to be the driver of the car, has been arrested and will appear in Rotorua District Court today.

In a third incident, a 16-year-old boy is in a serious condition in Waikato Hospital after being knocked down by a tourist bus in the city on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, yesterday, police, LandSAR, St Johns Ambulance, and Rotorua and Lake Tarawera fire service emergency crews were called to the Bayview Rd boat ramp at 11am following reports of a father and daughter missing after their kayak capsized.

A police spokeswoman said it was not clear how the incident happened, but only the daughter was wearing a lifejacket.

The kayak was seen by relatives on shore upturned in the water.

One witness said the father and daughter were seen clinging to the upturned craft before the young girl lost her grip and disappeared beneath the water.

Emergency crews searched for several hours before police divers found the bodies about 4.30pm.

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 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 on to 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. - with APNZ

- Rotorua Daily Post

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