With his last words, a drowning man told rescuers to save his wife after they were caught in a flash rip and taken out to sea.

The man died at Waimarama beach on Sunday evening. With patrols over an hour before, members of the public who swam out to rescue the pair have been credited with saving the woman's life.

A third person in trouble got back to shore by himself.

Police this evening named the dead man as 26-year-old Hemin Vinubhai Limbachiya of Napier.

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First to reach the struggling couple was Hastings teenager Cameron McCallum. When he and his friends heard someone was in distress, the 16-year-old said they acted on instinct and rushed into the water.

He was the only one to reach the couple, with Limbachiya trying to keep the woman afloat. Cameron grabbed Limbachiya, as the woman "looked like she was already gone, she was under the water".

But Limbachiya told Cameron to take her, saying "she's still alive".

"Then I grabbed her, pulled her to him and told him to hold her, and I was just there holding them both."

Caution tape cordons off an area on Waimarama beach where local Maori have placed a Rahui after one person drowned yesterday and two were rescued. Photo/Warren Buckland
Caution tape cordons off an area on Waimarama beach where local Maori have placed a Rahui after one person drowned yesterday and two were rescued. Photo/Warren Buckland

For five minutes he kept the pair and himself afloat, before brothers Sam and Will Coltart, and their friend Julien Thery paddled out to help.

The brothers were inside their bach - near the lifesaving club - when Will spotted Cameron's arm raised in the water. Sam grabbed a surfboard and went to help while his brother raised the alarm.

When he got close Sam saw the teenager holding on to the woman, trying to keep Limbachiya afloat, while "struggling to keep his own head above the water".

"He was crying out a bit by the time I got there because there was so much body weight for that young guy to try and keep afloat."

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Sam pulled the woman on to his board, while Cameron used the surfboard to keep himself, and Limbachiya's head, above water.

"If the guy with the surfboard hadn't come out when he did, I would have gone down as well", Cameron said. He got back to shore on Thery's board.

Battling a current, and choppy seas, Sam and another young man brought the woman back to shore, while Thery and Will tried to rescue Limbachiya, and bring him in on a paddleboard.

"With the surf crashing over us we were scared we were going to lose our grip on him," Will said. "We tried to do some CPR on him but it was impossible."

Police and Surf Lifesaving have praised the rescuers' quick action, without which they feared the woman would have also drowned.

The beach was deserted today after the drowning, with a rahui in place. Photo/Warren Buckland
The beach was deserted today after the drowning, with a rahui in place. Photo/Warren Buckland

The rescuers had no life-guarding experience - the Coltart brothers are locals with experience of the Waimarama beach, while Cameron described himself as an "alright" swimmer.

Yesterday his mum, Pauline, said she was "very, very proud" of her son, and grateful to the Coltarts and Thery for rescuing him.

"I could have so easily lost my son if the surfers hadn't gone out to help," she said.

Cameron said he was glad to have helped the woman, but his heart went out to the couple's families.

The brothers said they were grateful to help the woman, but "gutted" Limbachiya had not survived.

She and Cameron were treated by paramedics onshore. Limbachiya was given CPR for 20 minutes but died at the scene.