The man who drowned at Hot Water Beach saved two children but could not get himself to safety.
But, an off-duty surgeon who spent almost an hour trying to save him on Sunday afternoon says Angelo Tuyay might still be alive if lifeguards were notified sooner and a flotation device was on the beach.
Trauma surgeon Pierre Péchon said the sea was flat enough to land an aircraft on the day Tuyay drowned.
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Péchon and three other off-duty doctors were working to save Tuyay within minutes of him being pulled from the water, but it was too late.
Tuyay had ventured into the water wearing jeans and a shirt after two girls started to have trouble in a strong rip, Péchon said.
Tuyay had swum out towards the children before getting into trouble himself.
Péchon said a woman on the beach called out for help and a French tourist rescued one of the girls from the water and then dragged Tuyay back to shore.
"He wasn't face down in the water, he was still alive when they got to him, he had these two girls on his shoulders and he tried to hand over the girls to the French tourist."
Tuyay had chosen to make sure the children were safe and when the rescuers got back to him it was too late.
"He [the French tourist] saw the guy was flat in the water, he just saw the guy was flat and realised he wasn't breathing and a whole load of them pulled him in."
Péchon, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at North Shore Hospital, had arrived at the beach with his wife for a trip to the hot pools before returning to Auckland.
The pair had shared a weekend away from the hustle-and-bustle of Auckland but their lazy Sunday plan was quickly flipped on its head.
Upon their arrival to the tourist hotspot, a man came running up the beach into the car park asking someone to call 111.
Instead, Péchon bolted towards the water where a man had been pulled out of the water and was lying unconscious on the beach.
He and three other off-duty doctors, attempted to revive Tuyay.
After performing CPR on the man for the best part of an hour and after the arrival of paramedics and a rescue helicopter, the call was made to stop.
Tuyay died at the scene.
"He had been on the sand for maybe one minute, two minutes, something like that [when I arrived at the scene]," Péchon said.
"I basically took lead over who was doing what, CPR is really tiring and I basically was making sure they change over every two minutes.
"When the paramedics came before the helicopter arrived we burgled their first aid kit and put an airway in him, hooked up the defib and gave him some adrenaline."
Péchon, an anaesthetist, a general practitioner and a urology surgeon all worked on Tuyay in the rescue attempt.
Paramedics arrived at the scene around 35 minutes after the team of doctors started CPR, the rescue helicopter arriving after another 10 minutes.
After working on Tuyay for 55 minutes the call was made to stop the rescue efforts and the CPR was stopped.
Péchon said the conditions tragically highlighted the dangers of rips at the East Coast beach.
"On the calmest day when there was no waves there is still horrendous rip currents and the fact there is four off-duty doctors on the beach at the time and we couldn't save the guy," he said.
"That beach has got a nasty current and you've got to be really careful. What would have saved him was a flotation device on the beach.
"The lifeguards weren't in the communication loop… they're the guys who need to be on the beach."
He said emergency services, and the doctors on hand, worked "like clockwork" to save Tuyay's life but there was nothing they could do.
"There were plenty of capable people on the beach, but when he was struggling there wasn't a lifeguard right there, or a flotation device, once you have drowned doctors on the beach are no use."
"Once you are drowned, four doctors on the beach does not help."
Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service chairman Gary Hinds said the service was packing up supplies after a day of training on the other side of the beach when the incident unfolded.
They were not notified of the emergency callout until six or seven minutes after Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
The most recent incident had prompted Hinds to call on the need to receive the message of a callout at the beach as soon as other emergency services did.
It was something he had been fighting for for a long time, he said.
"I've been working on this for four or five years. We are like the poor cousins, we have the same training and assets and we are the ones at the beach and know it well.
"It is disappointing, we don't know if we could have changed anything, we have to sort this out so it doesn't keep happening."