"It was only 70 to 80 metres and probably only took me about 10 minutes but it felt like 800 metres and seemed to take forever."
These are the chilling words of Marcus Burndred who swam out to rescue unresponsive Jung Nam Shin, 76, from Auckland from the water at Waihi Beach on Monday.
Despite desperate efforts by attending police, St John Ambulance, local firefighters and a TECT Rescue Helicopter crew to revive Shin, he died at the scene.
Police were called to Island View Esplanade Reserve near Bonito Ave at 1.35pm and immediately began performing CPR on Shin until other emergency services arrived.
Burndred, 45, from Waihi Beach, said he was returning home from a bike ride to Bowentown about 1.30pm when he was flagged down by a woman asking for his help.
"She was panicking because her husband aged in his 70s was already out in the water up to his neck trying to swim out to the deceased who was 70 to 80 metres from shore.
"She told me her husband was not a strong swimmer and he was struggling to do so."
Burndred said he initially thought the man who needed rescuing could be the body of a swimmer reported missing at Mount Maunganui last Saturday.
"But then I learned two other couples connected to the unresponsive man were at the beach. I believe one of the women in the group may have been his wife or partner."
Burndred said he swam out to the man who was face down in the water.
"I thought it was a bit strange as he was wearing a wetsuit and a life jacket. And when I rolled him over on to his back he was motionless and foaming from the mouth."
Burndred said he used side-stroke to tow the unresponsive Shin back to the shore.
"It was only 70 to 80 metres and probably only took about 10 minutes, but it felt like 800 metres and seemed to take forever ... As I neared the beach I could hear sirens coming down the road and I thought 'yes, thank heavens'.
"While I know how to perform CPR, it was a bit of fist punch moment as I was very tired and so relieved the police officers were right there to take over."
Burndred said the man in his 70s who went into the water first also helped drag Shin from the surf but he does not know who he was.
He said, fortunately, the surf was fairly small but there was a westerly wind blowing.
"I'm a strong swimmer and regularly help a friend out with his surf school so I'm fairly confident in the surf but this is the first time I have had to rescue someone.
"I felt pretty helpless as the man was in a very bad way and no one knew how long he'd been out in the water."
How Shin ended up in the surf was a "bit of mystery", but there was a surf caster and a crab pot on the sandy beach and Shin may have been fishing, Burndred said.
Shin's family at the beach did not speak English so they struggled to understand each other when he talked to them, he said.
Burndred said he watched the emergency services personnel work on Shin for some time and his heart sank when he released their efforts to revive him were in vain.
"It's very sad and I can't stop thinking about it. But I'm relieved that I was able to at least bring the man back to his family."
He said adrenalin was pumping as he desperately tried to get the man back to shore as fast as he could.
"It was all a bit of blur. When it was all over, I couldn't stop shaking for ages and I was a bit of a mess at the time. My heart goes out to the man's family.
"It's a bike ride I won't forget in a hurry."
Mayor View Volunteer chief fire officer Paul Tucker said a team of 18 emergency services personnel were involved in efforts to try to save Shin.
As well as the two police officers, there were two St John Ambulance staff, three TECT Rescue Helicopter crew and 11 local firefighters including himself, he said.
"It was very much a team effort and everybody performed their duties in a professional and respectful way, but sadly it was too late to revive Mr Shin."
"Our heartfelt regards go out to his family," Tucker said.
A funeral service was held in Auckland for Jung Shin on Thursday, November 19.