Auckland Council is reviewing its policy on life rings at wharves it owns after the drowning of a little boy who fell from a wharf in Devonport which didn't have one.

A man who jumped into choppy seas and frantically tried to rescue 5-year-old Haoran Chen last Saturday afternoon says he may have been able to save the boy if there had been life rings at the Torpedo Bay wharf.

Since the tragic incident Bernard Riedl had been flooded with Facebook messages from members of the public - particularly parents with young children of their own.

"They say 'you're brave for doing what you did'. They say 'you're a hero. But I don't think so. I was unsuccessful. I tried to save him and I failed. I almost drowned myself," he told the Herald.


He had been walking on the wharf with a friend when he saw Haoran - who he didn't know - struggling in the water.

"Everyone was shouting 'jump in, jump in'. No one was jumping in. No one else was going to do it so I couldn't stand there and do nothing so I just jumped in."

Riedl managed to swim to Haoran and get the child to wrap his arm's around his neck but the little boy lost his grip and they became separated.

Then Riedl got into trouble too.

"I started drowning. I thought to myself 'two minutes ago I was just in my normal life, now I'm going to die'," he said.

"I swallowed a lot of water so I laid on my back as I just tried to breathe. It was very rough. I don't know how long it was but I opened my eyes and I was by the shore again near the rocks at North Head."

Bernard Riedl tried to rescue Haoran Chen after the 5-year-old fell into the sea near Devonport last week. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Bernard Riedl tried to rescue Haoran Chen after the 5-year-old fell into the sea near Devonport last week. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Meanwhile, Coastguard volunteers had arrived and pulled Haoran from the water.

They did CPR, but couldn't revive the child. He was pronounced dead at the scene.


Riedl wondered if he might have successfully saved Haoran if there had been life rings on the wharf.

"There are life rings on Devonport wharf but there weren't life rings on that Torpedo Bay wharf. If someone had thrown a life ring out to us it could have been an entirely different result," he said.

Auckland Council - which owns Torpedo Bay Wharf - confirmed there were no life rings at Torpedo Bay wharf.

"Auckland Council owns hundreds of wharves, but we do not have a policy of supplying every wharf with a life ring. Following Haoran Chen's death we are reviewing the provision of life rings.

"Investigating the death is a matter for the coroner and we will be reviewing their findings in due course. Our thoughts are with Haoran's family following this tragic event," said Agnes McCormack, head of operational maintenance at the Council.

After a week of reflecting on how he almost died, Riedl had started to come to terms with his own mortality.

"It sort of makes you appreciate your life a bit more and doing things that you enjoy and that you love," Riedl said.

He was "doing okay" and being supported by family and friends.

The incident hadn't put Riedl off swimming in the ocean but had prompted him to sign up to lessons at the local public pools to improve his swimming technique.

Riedl urged parents of young children to make sure they watched their kids closely around water this summer.

"What happened with that family on the weekend, I suppose it could have happened to anyone. But they were separated from the boy. He was on the other side of the wharf, they were somewhere else on the wharf."

Haoran's family were yet to contact him, but if they did he was willing to speak to them.

"I'm not sure what I'd say but if they want to [talk] I could."