The partner of a soldier who died at a Far North beach trying to rescue children swept out to sea is heartbroken to learn the tragedy could have been prevented.
Wairongoa Renata, 54, better known as Magoo or Tickety-Boo, drowned at Cable Bay in January 2018 after swimming out to help his daughter, then aged 11, and other children in distress in the water.
A report by Coroner Mary-Anne Borrowdale last week criticised the Far North District Council's ''complacent approach'' for not having signs at the beach warning of its dangers or flotation devices if people did get into trouble.
The council is now putting up warning signs at the beach.
Renata's partner, Leigh Albert, said it was ''highly distressing'' to discover that signs had once been installed at the beach but were removed at some point and never replaced.
The council's complacency had failed her partner and their children, she said.
''Although it's encouraging to know that this beach is going to have warning signs erected, I encourage the council to take their responsibilities seriously in the future. I do acknowledge that if drownings are to be prevented, it's going to take an all agency approach. Community groups, district councils, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand and charitable organisations like Operation Flotation will need a co-ordinated approach, to ensure no other whānau has to deal with this kind of heartache again,'' she said.
Albert, a sergeant in the New Zealand Army, praised the work of the charity Operation Flotation set up after her partner's death.
The group had stepped into the vacuum left by the council by fundraising, buying and installing flotation devices at beaches around the upper North Island.
She felt ''heartfelt appreciation'' for founder Pat Millar and her ''amazing team of volunteers''.
''My hope for the future is that Magoo's legacy will serve to keep whānau safe. He served his country, his community and in his last, he served his whānau,'' she said.
''This is a goal that we should strive to achieve — service for the betterment of others. We should not allow one more preventable death.''
Meanwhile, the Far North District Council says signs will be erected at popular beaches in Doubtless Bay, in line with the coroner's recommendations, by the end of the month.
Signs at Cable Bay Reserve and Little Cable Bay would alert visitors to variable conditions, chief executive Shaun Clarke said.
Signs would also be erected at Coopers Beach and Taipā while extra information highlighting dangers would be added to existing signs at those and other beaches.
''While the council has no statutory responsibilities to mitigate water safety risks and our staff are not qualified to make those assessments, we acknowledge there is a gap in information available to beachgoers visiting unpatrolled beaches.''
Where required the council would install more warning signs, Clarke said.
In her report Borrowdale ruled that Renata's death may have been prevented if the family had understood the hazards present at Cable Bay, in which case they may have decided not to swim, to stay close to shore or take a flotation device.
Despite its usually benign appearance a report by Surf Lifesaving NZ said Cable Bay was prone to sudden changes in water depth close to shore, dumping waves, rips and currents.
The beach was highly dynamic with the location and severity of hazards varying over time.
Borrowdale also called for better water safety information on a Doubtless Bay Promotions website which described the area's ''many fine and safe beaches'' without mentioning the dangers.
She praised Operation Flotation volunteers for their efforts to improve water safety.
The speed with which the trust was set up — within two months of Renata's death — and the improvements it had brought about showed what could be achieved with focus and determination, despite few financial resources.
It is not clear who removed the original warning signs, when or why.
Renata's daughter was unconscious when she was pulled from the water and flown to Whangārei Hospital. She made a full recovery.