A fourth suspected drowning in Northland in less than two weeks has brought the number of water-related tragedies to half of last year's total.

Water Safety New Zealand figures show there were eight preventable drowning deaths in Northland in 2018.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills said the start to the year in Northland is a tragic situation and one preventable drowning is one too many.

The latest suspected drowning happened at Ruakaka Beach yesterday, around 300m to 400m north of the Ruakaka race track, just after 7am.


Police said a 51-year-old local man had waded out to retrieve his fishing nets when it appeared he got into difficulty.

Senior Sergeant Ryan Gray said another person went to help the man and was able to get him back to shore.

The man died at the scene while the second person was taken to Whangārei Hospital in a moderate condition.

It came less than two days after a man failed to surface while swimming at Whangārei Falls.

Relatives and friends are mourning the death of Filipino international student Kent Espinosa, after a body believed to be his was recovered at around 1.45pm on Saturday from the Whangārei Falls.

Police were called to the popular swimming spot and tourist attraction at 4.30pm on Friday. The search was halted that evening and resumed with the Police Dive Squad on Saturday.

Mhyreen Cordova, his cousin in the Philippines, contacted the Herald shortly after the news broke that he had gone missing.

Early yesterday morning New Zealand time, Cordova posted on Facebook: "For those who sympathise in time of our grief ... please do help us in praying for Kenny's soul. May God bless us all."


A friend who was with Espinosa on Friday said they were out swimming at the falls when he encountered difficulties and went under.

Espinosa, who was studying in Auckland, was in Whangarei for a summer break.

"Yes I saw him go under ... it's difficult to talk now, and we're with Victim Support," said the friend yesterday, who did not want to be named.

Police are yet to formally identify the victim.

The scene was blessed on Saturday and the site has been reopened to the public.

On January 7, the body of 65-year-old Bruce Ngapera was found out on the water after he failed to return from a fishing trip off Motukaraka Pt on the Hokianga Harbour.

On January 4, Te Hei Kahurangi Rogers, 44, of Kaikohe died in a diving accident near Moturoa Island in the Bay of Islands. The Police Dive Squad were also called to recover his body.

Water Safety New Zealand's Mills said Northland was a popular summer location with plenty of visitors as well as locals making the most of lots of magnificent waterways.

"We've got to have that level of respect for the water. It's a playground, but it can be unforgiving and unpredictable."

His message was for people to be prepared, have local knowledge and know their own limits.

Mills said local knowledge meant things like knowing the conditions and knowing where the safe places or hidden dangers are and was especially important for visitors.

He said as always the safest place to swim are the beaches patrolled by the lifeguards.

"They do a magnificent job but they can't be at every beach."