Holidaymakers have described their desperate efforts to save a family caught in “very rough” surf off an isolated Coromandel beach where at least one died yesterday.
A water, air and land search continues today for a missing person in the water at Opoutere Beach, north of Whangamatā.
A survivor has been discharged from Thames Hospital while another is in Waikato Hospital recovering but is in a stable condition.
Acting Senior Sergeant Will Hamilton of the Whangamata Police said a fixed-winged aircraft to search the area from the air while searches will also be carried out along the shoreline and on the water.
“Police ask that anyone who finds items of interest on the coastline to please hand them in to police at Whangamata Surf Club,” said Hamilton.
Six people, out of a group of seven were seen waving their arms for help in the water before they were pulled from the ocean but one person “was unable to be revived”, police said.
One of the group was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition after emergency services launched a massive response at 11.27am.
Kathy Le Haavre was on holiday and showing Tony Brooks a beach she was familiar with from her childhood when the pair spotted a man being dragged out to sea.
“We said, ‘oh God, let’s go’ and we just ran [to help],” Le Haavre told the Herald.
Le Haavre, a nurse, spent half an hour giving the man CPR before paramedics arrived on the scene but he was later confirmed to have died.
“On a little beach like that, there was a woman I knew, a doctor, and two other nurses.”
Brooks, who has worked on a rescue helicopter and is a former surf lifesaver, also helped resuscitate a teenage boy and empty his lungs of water.
“It’s always a great relief when the first spew comes out. He improved slowly as the minutes went on,” Brooks said.
“He was unresponsive, but then I saw some eye movement, then some hand movement, and then he could breathe on his own.”
He said he and two other people gave the boy CPR and compressions.
“Ultimately, we got him back pretty quickly, in about two or three minutes.”
The teenage boy was airlifted to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition.
Both Brooks and Le Haavre believed the group was a family as they comforted a woman on the beach who they understood was the dead man’s wife.
“To lose her husband in front of her eyes and to know her son [still missing] hadn’t come in must be really tough.
“She had her whole family there. Her son lost his dad.” Brooks said.
“Can you imagine the heartache?”
The pair spoke to the Herald while they were driving home and Le Haarve said she was still running on adrenaline.
“It’s a tragedy and absolutely awful what’s happened,” she said.
Brooks said: “’Hero’ is not ... a term I would use, just a committed bunch of people with different skills who chipped in.
“They risked their lives in that surf. It was really big out the back. The message I want to come through is: well done to those who helped.”
Le Haavre and Brooks said the surf was “very rough”.
A St John Ambulance spokesperson said three helicopters and three ambulances went to the scene.
Along with the teen boy in a critical condition another, in a moderate condition, was taken to Thames Hospital. Three other people were in a minor condition.
Yesterday’s emergency came less than 24 hours after a man went missing in the water in Whangamatā on Tuesday.
A police spokesperson said emergency services responded to a report of a man missing near the estuary, shortly after 6pm.
A rescue helicopter found him but he was unable to be revived.