Water deaths lowest in 6 years

Three people drowned in New Zealand waters this official Christmas holiday period - between 4pm Christmas Eve and 6am yesterday morning - the lowest number for the holiday period in the past six years.

Water Safety New Zealand says it was still three deaths too many.

"We had hoped to be announcing a zero holiday period toll today and it's incredibly sad that instead we're talking about three people that have lost their lives in the water," said Matt Claridge, Water Safety New Zealand chief executive.

"It's an absolute tragedy that three families will begin 2013 without a loved one."

Oscar-winning sound editor Michael Alexander Hopkins, from Greytown, drowned on Sunday in the Waiohine River when a wave of water hit the raft he was in, with his wife and another man.

And a man in his 20s died while he was diving in Whangaparaoa on Saturday.

A group of five were diving at Matakatia Bay when one of the group failed to surface.

The third death occurred when 42-year-old Whakatane woman Lita Tarau entered the surf to help her son who was in distress.

Mr Claridge said while it was positive to see the number of deaths down on previous years - there have been on average 10 drownings each Christmas during the past five years - the number of rescues indicate the toll could have been higher.

Mr Claridge said with almost a month to go until the end of the school holidays, all holidaymakers need to make water safety a priority, now.

"It doesn't matter what you're doing... the water safety basics are the same. Watch the weather, keep kids within arms reach, know your limits, don't drink alcohol if you're going out on or in the water and use the right safety equipment."

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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