A social club trip for workmates turned to tragedy at a remote East Coast beach when a man drowned after diving into rough seas.
Three of the man's colleagues desperately tried to save him during a heroic rescue attempt near Lottin Point yesterday . They were also joined by local firefighters, St John and a rescue helicopter crew.
It is understood the man, a stevedore who had worked for some time for C3 at the Port of Tauranga, was a father.
Lottin Point Motel owner Marija Dalziel praised the efforts of everyone who battled in vain to help the man. The group of workers were at the beach as part of a social club function.
She said the alarm bell was raised just after 7.30am yesterday when a group of them went down to the water to decide whether to go out for a dive.
"They went down to have a look at the water and eyed it up for a possible dive and the men who were about decided they weren't prepared to go in and yet he dived in and I think he hit his head."
He never resurfaced.
Three of his colleagues then risked their own lives by also diving in and scrambling to get him out of the water. They managed to drag him on to a large rock nearby and begin performing CPR, with Dalziel's daughter, as they waited for emergency services to arrive.
"He was just in that happy mood of being away and got it wrong."
A Fire and Emergency crew arrived and with their equipment, including a ladder, tried to retrieve the man from the rocks to bring him ashore.
Due to the man's location, their efforts proved fruitless.
An Eastland Rescue Helicopter was sent to a job at 8.15am, a spokeswoman said.
The crew were told a man had got into trouble diving and had suffered a medical event.
When the helicopter arrived, the man could be seen on the rocks surrounded by his exhausted colleagues. A paramedic used a ladder to reach the man on the rocks, where he was pronounced dead.
With an incoming tide, the helicopter crew transferred the man's body to shore to a waiting vehicle, the spokeswoman said.
Dalziel praised the heroic attempts of the rescuers.
"The rescue helicopter put themselves in jeopardy trying to retrieve the tūpāpaku [the body] and they did the most fantastic recovery. We were all in awe of their ability, their confidence, their skill.
"They had to take him off a rock which was like an island.
"He had been brought up on to a rock which was exposed. The other men got in the water and recovered him and brought him up and then administered CPR.
"Even the fire brigade, trying to get him off this rock. Everyone was there with their ladders. It was an amazing effort on everybody's behalf."
Dalziel also paid tribute to the man's colleagues, who were all shocked and distraught.
"They're really upset, as you can imagine."
While it was a nice, sunny morning, she said, the sea conditions made it "unwise" to enter, with strong, surging tides and rough waves.
She said Lottin Point was one of the deepest points on the coast, with the water depth going from 3m to 30m in a matter of metres.
"It's not safe. It's a place that you would dive if you were experienced and if you were inexperienced you would do it on the calmest of days and you would listen to the advice that others who are wiser than you would give.
"We have a trench that runs past us that comes from White Island and the waters out there are so deep, you would never, ever put an anchor down on a boat."
Dalziel said the man dived off the edges of one of the rocks and given the conditions, would likely have been smashed against the rocks.
"It's a lovely spot and it's renowned for big fish and fantastic diving ... it's one of the prettiest spots in the country."
The man had worked for a long time as a stevedore for wharf logistics company C3 Ltd, loading cargo on to ships at the Port of Tauranga.
Dalziel said the man had "one of the most dangerous jobs in the world" working with large machinery, "all the dangers in the world", and "I think with the jubilation of being away put his guard down".
Police confirmed they had received a report of a person getting in trouble in the water in the Hicks Bay area.
"Sadly, despite efforts to revive them, the person died at the scene. The death is not believed to be suspicious and has been referred to the coroner."
Water Safety NZ statistics show the man's death is now the 72nd preventable drowning so far this year, up about 20 per cent compared with November 29 last year, when 59 people had died.
Of the 72, 64 were men, 16 women and the majority - 25 in total - have been aged between either 25 and 34 or 65-plus.
Most of the deaths, 23, happened at beaches, while 19 had died in rivers.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills said every preventable drowning was a tragedy for a family and a community.
He called for people to take "personal responsibility" around water during the festive season, particularly if alcohol was involved.
"We've all got to respect the water no matter what activity we're undertaking. Our waters are welcoming but can be incredibly unforgiving. Be prepared, know the risks and your limits, and watch out for yourself and others."