A Northland chef who witnessed the drowning of his beloved friend at a popular swimming spot feels a sense of guilt that the tragedy happened under his watch.

Charl Beyers is mourning the death of Mahraf Momen, 24, a Bangladeshi citizen, who failed to surface while swimming at Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri on Saturday afternoon.

Momen also worked as a chef but was based in Auckland and drove up on Friday last week to Paihia, where Beyers lives, to explore the mid and Far North over the weekend.

Both men came to New Zealand in 2017 and studied cookery at the New Zealand Management Academies in Auckland before starting work as chefs recently.

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Beyers described his friend as an "introvert" who loved to explore the different regions of New Zealand during his breaks.

Momen came to Paihia on Friday and the friends went on a dolphin cruise the same day before they were joined by two other friends on Saturday morning for trips to the farmers' market and the chocolate factory in Kerikeri.

Beyers said Momen looked up online for places to visit and decided to check out Rainbow Falls.

Bangladeshi chef Mahraf Momen got into trouble while swimming at Kerikeri Falls and drowned in front of his friend Charl Beyers. Photo / Supplied
Bangladeshi chef Mahraf Momen got into trouble while swimming at Kerikeri Falls and drowned in front of his friend Charl Beyers. Photo / Supplied

"Initially we were on top of the waterfall taking photos and just enjoying the scenery. We then decided to go down to the bottom and Mahraf decided to get changed and go for a swim with another friend," Beyers said.

"They swam towards the waterfall but halfway through, it looked like they were struggling so they turned around. The other friend swam towards the bank while Mahraf headed towards me. I was sitting on rocks."

Beyers said Mahraf was "doggy paddling" and did breast stroke and he saw him taking a dip once and surfacing.

When he went back down, Beyers said his friend remained under water for 30 to 40 seconds.

"A man swimming with a boy and another person went to check on him and it was difficult to see how deep the water was. They eventually pulled him out of the water and an elderly man administered CPR but it didn't look like he was responding."

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Beyers said an ambulance was called and a paramedic later told him they couldn't revive his friend.

"I feel a lot of guilt because he came to visit me. I kind of blocked everything around me to try and cope with the situation," he said.

He is liaising with Momen's parents in Bangladesh and an uncle and aunt who live in Australia.

Mahraf's death has been referred to the coroner, who will decide if a post mortem is needed to establish the cause of death. He has no family members in New Zealand.

It's the second death at a waterfalls in Northland this year.

Filipino international student Kenny Espinosa died after getting into difficulty at Whangārei Falls on January 12.


Swimming at a waterfall presents a unique danger. If there is white water, if the water is foaming or disturbed by rocks or falling a distance, then you lose buoyancy.

White water is water mixed with air, and air bubbles have less density than water. So you lose your buoyancy in it, are affected by gravity much more and may very well sink. If you're not experienced that's the kind of thing that can make you panic, and panicking can get you into trouble.

It is instinctive to try to swim against the current, back up thorough the bubbles, but you have to exit that stream of air filled fluid through the water around you and then surface.