A student nurse who drowned in Northland in 2019 was a confident swimmer but was likely not aware of the hazards of swimming near waterfalls, a Coroner has found.
Kenny Espinosa died on January 11, 2019, when swimming with friends at the waterhole below Otuihau, or the Whangārei Falls.
His friends tried to save him - including trying to throw a log to help him float - but could not reach him before he went under, Coroner Alison Mills said in a finding released today.
Espinosa, 28, was originally from the Philippines but was living in Auckland. He and other nursing friends had travelled to Whangārei to see off their friend Benjamin Baril, who was moving to the city.
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The group went swimming at the Mermaid Pools at Matapouri Beach before stopping on the way back around 4.30pm at the falls, where Espinosa and Baril decided to take a second dip.
The pair asked a tourist emerging from the waterhole if it was very deep, and were told that it was. They initially swam in the shallows, but Espinosa then headed for deeper water.
Baril, who was not a strong swimmer, stayed behind, but "Mr Espinosa was known to be a competent swimmer," the Coroner said.
Espinosa then started to struggle after about two minutes, according to Baril - calling for help and waving his hand in distress. Baril yelled out for others to help, and tried to throw a log toward Espinosa but was unsuccessful.
Two other tourists also dived into the water but could not reach Espinosa, despite repeatedly diving to look for him. Another member of the public called 111.
By the time police arrived Espinosa had been under water at least 10 minutes, the Coroner found. Police were unable to find him in the water, which had poor visibility.
The following morning police divers and Search and Rescue found his body, about 25m from the edge of the waterhole, in 6m-deep water.
The Coroner expressed concerns about the lack of signage at the waterhole. While there were some signs in the area they were limited and were not visible from the waterhole area, she said.
She recommended the Whangārei District Council review the signage at the falls, and consult with emergency services about appropriate content - such as warning about depth, slippery rocks, sudden dropoffs and general advice about buoyancy in fresh water.
Signs should be placed on either side of the waterhole as well as at the top of the falls, she said. She also wanted the council to install lifesaving equipment such as a lifebuoy at the falls - saying such a device "may have increased the chance of Mr Espinosa's survival".
The council has said it will comply with the recommendations.