Passing in and out of consciousness, a young Auckland man thought the last thing he would see before he died was the face of his distraught father trying to save him.

Paramedics who worked on Emmanuel Gibson after the 21-year-old was pulled from the sea at Cathedral Cove, on the Coromandel Peninsula, on Monday said he was just moments from dying.

The Flat Bush man was holidaying with his family at Hahei and was taking a final dip before returning to Auckland when he suddenly became caught in a rip and was dragged 20m out to sea.

"I remember just going out for a swim and I was in the water for about half an hour or less and I just found myself getting drifted away," Mr Gibson told the Herald.


"I was all good, just calm, and then I tried to swim against it, which wasn't the right thing to do."

He yelled for help from his brother-in-law, Jivan Saimone, who was swimming nearby.

"By the time he got to me, I was all out of energy. I just remember him calling for help and then I saw my dad running from the shore and then I blacked out.

"I was absolutely scared; I didn't think I would make it. While I was calling out to my brother-in-law, I was on my last energy."

With the help of an off-duty lifeguard from overseas whose name is unknown, Mr Saimone and Mr Gibson's father, Anthony, worked to get the unconscious man ashore.

"When I woke up again, I was underwater and they were trying to pull me out and then I blacked out again and collapsed," Emmanuel Gibson said. "By the time I woke up on the sand, I was just spewing."

Once ashore, Mr Gibson was treated by some holidaymakers who knew first aid and then by St John Ambulance paramedics before the Auckland-Coromandel Westpac rescue helicopter arrived.

"When I was lying on the beach, they said that if I was in there for 30 seconds longer it would have been a different story.

"And I opened my eyes and could see my dad looking at me and was thinking if I died, the last thing I would see would be my dad, and that made me scared and emotional."

Mr Gibson was transported to Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland in a serious condition.

Flight paramedic Marcel Driessen said Mr Gibson's swim could easily have been his last.

"We call them fatal drownings or non-fatal drownings, and he was extremely lucky that this was a non-fatal one. He was only moments, or at least minutes, away from being a tragedy."

Although Mr Gibson said he was able to swim, he admitted to not being very confident in the water and to not knowing the conditions at the beach.

In a summer that has seen more than 10 fatalities in New Zealand's waters, he hoped his near-death experience would be a warning to others.

"Be careful. If you're not a confident swimmer, don't go too far out, and be careful of your surroundings because a man can't fight the ocean."