A stranded diver who spent almost five hours drifting in the water off Maketu is "extremely lucky" to have survived, say local Coastguard and rescue helicopter officials.
The Paengaroa man was reported missing off Town Point Rd about 5.15pm on January 2 by his companion, who was forced to head back to shore on their 4m inflatable boat to raise the alarm because there was no communication onboard.
Maketu Coastguard president Shane Beech said he was alerted about 5.45pm that the diver, who headed out to catch crayfish about 2pm was missing, and two Coastguard vessels joined the search.
"By that time there were already two Maketu Surf Club crew in IRBs doing shoreline searches. Police and St John Ambulance and Maketu firefighters were also on scene."
Beech said they had only a vague description of where the diver was last seen.
"We had to do grid searches in the general area, and it took some time to do that without the exact GPS coordinates," he said.
"The conditions were starting to get quite breezy and choppy, obviously not great conditions to try to spot someone missing in deep water who's wearing a dark wetsuit."
Beech said when the missing diver was spotted about 4km offshore by a Police, Search and Rescue member onboard the TrustPower TECT Rescue helicopter, the Coastguard boats moved in and brought the man back to shore.
Beech said the diver did all the right things while stranded in the water.
"He'd dumped his weight belt, blew up his buoyancy compensator to keep afloat and floated on his back. He also kept a cool head and didn't panic.
"He was obviously very relieved to see us and was okay, but it could have been a different story. Without a doubt, we could easily be talking about a tragedy."
Beech said he could not impress enough how important it was for people to have at least one form of telecommunication device onboard when heading out to sea.
Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter pilot Todd Dunham said the diver counted himself "very lucky" given the location, choppy sea conditions and the hours he spent in the water.
"Even if the diver had surfaced near boats they probably would not have seen him and given the time he had been out there, he would have been extremely fatigued."
Dunham said it was only by chance that the police officer onboard the helicopter spotted the man's head in water.
"It appeared the diver was trying to kick his way back to shore but most probably going sideways in the strong current and not getting very far," he said.
"Not having a cell phone onboard their boat was a recipe for disaster," he said.
"I think the diver should buy a Lotto ticket and so should his mate. I'm sure there will be a lot of very pleased and relieved people today," Dunham said.
The diver's aunt, who asked not to be named, said her nephew had had "a big scare" and after he gets over the shock, she was sure he would want to say a huge thanks to his rescuers.