An emergency helicopter search for a missing diver near Owaka Heads on Sunday took an emotional toll, rescuers say.
A 23-year-old man, who has not yet been named by police, died while free-diving at the popular Catlins snorkelling spot about noon on Sunday, after he became separated from a fellow diver.
Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale said the drowning had been ''sobering'' for the rescue crew, and was a ''terrible tragedy'' for the victim's family and friends.
''Everyone was out there having a great time and then tragedy strikes.''
A small comfort was the rapid location of the missing man, less than 100m offshore at the Owaka Inlet, which meant his body could be returned to his family to bring ''some closure'', Gale said.
The helicopter crew included two water rescue staff and a paramedic, and the man was found by 1.40pm.
Police said the diver was not able to be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wellington-based New Zealand Underwater Association presi dent Tristan Reynard said he was not aware of the Catlins incident and expressed his condolences to the family of the dead man.
The association had launched a campaign this summer aimed at reducing diving accidents, following a recent upsurge in both numbers of divers and diving fatalities.
Water Safety New Zealand stat istics show there were 11 diver fatalities in 2019, an increase on the five-year average of six underwater sport deaths a year.
''We're seeing an increase in new divers and more people taking up things like spear-fishing, which doesn't require scuba gear so can sometimes attract the less experienced into challenging situations.
''Talking in general, there are several precautions people can take to ensure underwater sport safety.
''Probably the uppermost of these, based on the coroners' reports we review, is knowing your own personal limits and a group not diving beyond the limits of the least experienced member of the team.''
Diving buddies needed to have confidence in one another before tackling challenging
conditions, he said.
''Ocean currents in New Zealand are tricky and highly variable from place to place. I haven't dived the Catlins, but understand there was an earlier incident not too far from this location.''
In 2018, South Otago friends Mitch McPhee, 23, and Malcolm Ward, 51, died while diving for paua further south in the Catlins, in Purakaunui Bay.
Reynard said the association offered an online safety checklist for divers and encouraged people to use it.
''We'll review this case once it's been before the coroner. It's our aim to keep educating the diving community and eventually eliminate unnecessary deaths.''
Police were unable to provide further details regarding the Incident yesterday, but said the
name of the dead man would be released shortly.