Lifeguards are "devastated" after a man died while swimming at Wellington's popular Oriental Bay today.

The man was thought to have died after having a heart attack when swimming.

Three lifeguards were on duty and were alerted when the man was found face down in the water, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLNZ) said.

Lifeguards responded and helped move the man from the water, performing CPR until paramedics arrived.


SLNZ lifesaving and education manager Allan Mundy said lifeguards were devastated at the man's death.

He said if the man had a cardiac arrest, the onset would have been fast and there would have been no obvious signs of distress such as "splashing about in the water or calling for help".

"It was a calm and still afternoon in the bay and none of the people swimming near or around the man reacted to his situation, suggesting it was possibly sudden and silent," Mr Mundy said.

"With millions of beachgoers each year, lifeguards will often be required to respond to a wide range of medical events that are outside of standard patrolling operations. Unfortunately, as in this case, some of those events are catastrophic and the patient cannot be revived. Our sincere thoughts are with the man's family and friends."

The man was 63 and died at Wellington Hospital, 3 News reported.

"A man came and told the lifeguards and they got him. They were doing CPR on him for about 10 or 15 minutes before the ambulance came," 12-year-old witness Navi Devgun told 3 News.

The girl said she saw a crowd of people around the man who were "working pretty hard" to try to help him.