An eyewitness to a suspected drowning in West Auckland says fishermen tried desperately to save the man but he was quickly sucked out to sea by heavy swells.

A search operation resumed this morning for the missing fisherman, who was washed off Ninepin Rock at Whatipu Beach yesterday afternoon.

Jere Alonso, who fishes at the spot nearly every week, said the missing fisherman was a Chinese New Zealander in his early to mid-40s who had fished at the spot before. He was not wearing a lifejacket, Alonso said.

At around 1.30pm, the fisherman was standing at the edge of the rocks so he could cast further into the sea. It was around half an hour before full tide.

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"Normally, in an incoming tide … the waves go ballistic like a washing machine," Alonso said.

"Not all people are aware of that. I saw a [large wave] coming in to smash the rocks and he was just unlucky it reached him and was swept away.

Alonso said he shouted to a friend to call 111 before rushing to grab a life ring which was placed below the lighthouse on the rock.

"I was in a state of disbelief," he said.

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When he returned to throw the life ring, he saw the man was being quickly sucked out to sea and towards Manukau Harbour.

"He fought the current," Alonso said.

"I kept signalling him with my hand to swim towards the beach not the rocks.

"He eventually got tired, I guess, of swimming and he may have consumed salt water. All of a sudden we can see his body lying and floating [in a] prone position.

"Then next minute the body was gone and went under the sea, nowhere to be found."

The police Eagle helicopter arrived at 1.45pm to search for the man, and a Coastguard boat arrived soon after.

"But it was too late," Alonso said. "The body isn't visible anymore."

Alonso said he was the only one out of six fishers who was wearing a lifejacket at the dangerous fishing spot.

"As much as I'd love to help I know even Michael Phelps the best swimmer can't survive roaring current and waves of west coast Auckland," he said.

"There's only one thing I can say - people who go out there should have a lifejacket on.
Should he had one, his chances of survival [were] high."

Alonso, who lives on the North Shore, said he was originally from the Philippines and it took him a long time to adjust to the conditions on west coast beaches.

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A report by a West Coast rock fishing safety group published in September specifically identified the southern side of Ninepin Rock - where the fisherman was swept away yesterday - as a problem spot.

The life ring which Alonso grabbed is at the northern end of the rock. The report said this was too far away to be of any use to anyone fishing on the southern side, and recommended another life ring on that side.

"The south side currents are incredibly strong so every second counts in how quickly they can get a floatation device or rope," the report said.

Emergency services searching for teenager Leka Pasiaka in December. In the background is Ninepin Rock, where a fisherman was swept away by large waves yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig
Emergency services searching for teenager Leka Pasiaka in December. In the background is Ninepin Rock, where a fisherman was swept away by large waves yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig

In December, a teenager died after being swept away at Whatipu Beach.

The body of Leka Pasiaka was found more than a week later north of Piha Beach.