A group of campers pulled together in an attempt to save two children and their father from drifting out to sea as their frantic mother watched helplessly from the shore.

The trio had been fishing off a small island at Awhitu peninsula, in southwest Auckland, and were trying to wade back to shore but were caught by a rising tide yesterday afternoon.

Like the family, Auckland couple Simon Chaplin and Kathryn Williams had been holidaying at the Awhitu Regional Park with their own children.

The couple have told the Herald of their dramatic rescue of the children, a boy and a girl aged 12 and 7, and of others from the campground's unsuccessful efforts to save their father.


It was one of two tragedies on the water over the weekend. On Saturday, a group of Massey High School students were swept down a swollen river in the Waitakere Ranges by a flash flood. Two 17-year-olds died.

Simon Chaplin describes having to help save a father who was with his son and daughter who got into trouble. Photo / Greg Bowker
Simon Chaplin describes having to help save a father who was with his son and daughter who got into trouble. Photo / Greg Bowker

In Awhitu, Chaplin said a woman ran up to them while they were sitting on the beach.

"She said 'Do you think my family - my two kids and husband - are drifting further away or closer?' Because they were out fishing on the island and they had jumped into the water," Chaplin said.

"After looking for a couple of minutes they were definitely [drifring]."

Williams said the woman told them they had no lifejackets and one of the family members couldn't swim.

"That is really what got us moving. We had seen a kayak at the campground so we ran up.

"The people who owned it weren't there so we just had to take it and some lifejackets that we had."

Chaplin said they paddled out and saw the daughter in the water.


"She was probably up to her chest height and she was okay. We asked where the others were and she pointed out to sea, probably about 150m further.

"We could only see one head so we headed out there and the little boy is going under the water. I would say he was 30 seconds to a minute away from also not being with us. He had swallowed a lot of water," Chaplin said.

"We dragged him out of the water and stuck him on a kayak and we said 'Where is your Dad?'. He said he was in the water, but we couldn't see him.

"He emerges just on his back so we dragged him into the boat, just his head. I stuck my hand in for a pulse and he didn't have one."

Chaplin said at that point they could not paddle as one of the oars had broken so they held the family out of the water and called for help from a nearby jetskier.

"It took him quite some time to recognise screams of distress but he came over and dragged us to shore.

"We had to cuddle the boy to keep his head away from his dad and keep him talking because he was really distressed, but it was evident the man was deceased when we got into shore."

A nurse and a doctor were at the beach and helped administer CPR on the father, but he did not regain consciousness.

"The saving grace was having a doctor who happened to be there and he took control of the situation," Chaplin said.

"We had to keep the kids warm because they were really cold and coughing up water," Williams added.

She said emergency services arrived soon after.

"I think we did what any human being would do, or what I'd hope they would do, and it wasn't just us - the whole community responded and helped."

The children were flown by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Middlemore Hospital in a moderate condition.

Awhitu Volunteer Fire Brigade chief Andrew Hamilton praised the campers who helped.

"Special mention must be made of the campers there," he said.

"They were alerted to it before we got there and went out and helped the family in to shore."

Mitch Woolley, 17, was swept away while trying to cross a swollen river in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Instagram
Mitch Woolley, 17, was swept away while trying to cross a swollen river in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Instagram

Meanwhile, West Auckland's Massey High School is "heartbroken and in shock" after two of its students died in a swollen stream in the Waitakere Ranges on Saturday.

Sosi Turagaiviu and Mitch Woolley, both 17, were year 13 students at the college this year and keen members of the soccer team.

Mitch had a twin brother, Denver, and their mother drove the pair and three friends to the Cascade Falls area.

Mitch, Denver and Sosi were swept away but Denver managed to grab hold of a tree until he was winched to safety by the Westpac rescue helicopter

Sosi Turagaiviu, 17, was also swept away. Photo / Twitter
Sosi Turagaiviu, 17, was also swept away. Photo / Twitter

The other two had made it to the river bank and one ran to a nearby golf course to raise the alarm. He was taken to Waitakere Hospital with mild hypothermia.

Fellow student Abishek Sharma, who was working so not able to join the trip, said the twins' mother turned her car back to look for the group when the downpour hit.

"When she saw it started raining she went back, and it was only between five and 10 minutes when this happened," he said.

The twins were students in the college's engineering academy.

"We made a motorbike each last year," said Abishek said.

"This year we are all supposed to make go-karts."

School principal Glen Denham said his thoughts and prayers were with Sosi and Mitch's families.

"We are heartbroken and in shock," he said.

"They were beautiful boys. The world is a poorer place."

Ranui-Swanson Football Club president Toni Talijancich said the boys "enriched not just our sport but all of our lives".

"They will now become part of our game forever and will always be in our hearts and minds when we step out on to the pitch," she said.

Another friend, Matt Molloy, said Mitch and Denver switched last year to the Waitakere Rangers Gorillas team in the Christian Football Association.

He said the boys' father coached their teams in the Ranui club and at the school.

He said Sosi was humble and generous, and was always the one who offered to pay for food for his friends.

He had just bought a car on Friday and was planning to pick it up on Wednesday.