The 54-year-old Palmerston North man who died trying to save his children at Cable Bay last week was an army veteran who had saved a fellow soldier from losing an arm, if not his life, while serving in East Timor.

Wairongoa Clarence (Magoo) Renata died on Tuesday after going into the water to save five children caught in a rip. Beachgoers managed to get him to shore, but he could not be resuscitated.

His 11-year-old daughter was unconscious when she was pulled from the water by rescuers, including a man on a paddleboard and a local policeman, and was flown to Whangarei Hospital by rescue helicopter in a serious condition. She has since been discharged.

Four other children were treated at the scene by St John medics.


Kaeo-born Mr Renata had moved to Palmerston North when he was in the army. More recently he worked in construction with Higgins, a contracting firm, but his wife is still employed by the Defence Force.

'Magoo' remained a staunch Kaeo man and never lost his links to the community, particularly through whanau and rugby. He was also involved in kaupapa waka, paddling the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua on Waitangi Day.

A former Whangarei man who served alongside him in East Timor said he was "a real character", and credited him with saving him from serious injury, if not worse, after the armoured personnel carrier they were in was involved in a crash.

"He at least saved my arm when the APC we were in got hit by a non-military vehicle," the former SAS soldier, who did not want to be named, said.

"He pulled me out of the way just before it hit. It was coming from my blind spot, so I couldn't see it. My arm had been resting on the tray where it hit."

Mr Renata had later worked as a contractor in Iraq, where everyone spoke highly of him.
"He was a real character. He used to wear his smock in Timor, fully buttoned up, and on 'cold days' he'd wear a thermal top under it. We're talking about 36-40°C, and 95 per cent-plus humidity as a 'cold day' there," he said.

A family spokesman said last week that the whanau were gathering to support each other, and for Mr Renata's partner and their children.

He acknowledged the words of kindness and support offered in online tributes by members of the public and those who had shared time with Mr Renata in the army, and as a contractor in Palmerston North.

Mr Renata lay briefly at Mangaiti Marae, Kaeo, then Te Tahaawai Marae at Pupuke. He was interred yesterday.