A tragic drowning at Waimarama Beach on Sunday could easily have seen two people die - if not for a brave teen who risked his life to rescue the drowning swimmers.
A man is dead and a second man and woman were taken to hospital after they were caught in a flash rip at the Hawke's Bay beach yesterday evening.
Cameron McCallum and his friends were taking their last dip of the day when they were alerted to someone in distress in deep water beyond the surf break.
"Me and my mate went to swim out," the 16-year-old Hastings teenager said.
"My mate stopped because he can't swim that far. But I went out there and I saw the guy was having trouble carrying his wife - she was completely submerged, he was just holding her arm.
"I grabbed her and pulled her closer to him, then tried to keep him above water. It looked like she was already gone."
McCallum estimated he spent at least five minutes trying to keep the pair afloat until a surfer came out and pulled the woman to safety on his board.
He stayed with the man, trying to keep his head above water until two more surfers arrived with boards.
"One of them grabbed the guy. I was still there, but I was completely dead - it felt like I was going to give way. One gave me his surfboard and I came to shore and lay down."
Police said last night that a person had died after being recovered from the water shortly before 7pm and two others were taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital in a moderate condition.
McCallum described the couple as Indian, in their late 30s. Their friend has since told him they were married.
Getting to shore is all a blur in his memory, McCallum said. A friend grabbed him and pulled him to shore, where other friends - and his mother - were waiting.
The group of friends had been there the whole day for the Waimarama Beach Day. It had been extremely busy and lifeguards had conducted plenty of rescues over the day.
But the surf club knocks off at 5.30pm, and by 6.30pm when the rescue happened only a few groups were left at the beach.
The 16-year-old says he's an "alright" swimmer but has never had lifeguard training and didn't think too hard about what to do when he got there.
"It was just trying to keep their heads out of the water. That's it...I didn't think, I just went.
"If the first guy with the surfboard didn't come when he did, I think I wouldn't have done too good. I was on the verge of just dropping him and falling to the bottom."
Off-duty paramedics were at the beach and were able to help before the ambulance and helicopter arrived.
"They were worried that I had second hand drowning - I had swallowed quite a lot of water. But I've had an X-ray and...it's all good."
McCallum's friend Flynn Hughes, 16, also attempted to swim out but turned back .
He estimated it took McCallum a minute to reach the pair.
"It was far out, we couldn't see much because of the waves and stuff. But when the surfers got out there it was a relief - we were worrying. We weren't sure because we couldn't see him most of the time."
Hughes believes his friend definitely saved the woman's life, a sentiment shared by police who are today praising efforts of those who first to come to the stricken swimmers' aid.
"Even though he needed to be saved afterward, if he wasn't there she probably would have drowned as well."
Police said a group swimming in chest-deep water when the man who drowned and a woman started to be swept out to sea. A third person in the group tried to help but struggled in the big surf.
Hawke's Bay Police detective Mike Signal said nearby residents saw the trio in distress, raised the alarm and used a surfboard from the nearby surf club to go to rescue them.
The man was not breathing when he was pulled from the water. Surf lifesavers started CPR but could not revive him.
The woman was conscious but in difficulty and flown by rescue helicopter to hospital. A second man in the group of swimmers was also treated by ambulance staff.
Police praised the quick actions by the members of public who went into the water to go to their aid and raise the alarm.
Without this, police believed there would have been more deaths, said Signal.
A senior surf lifesaver at the beach described the conditions as rough, although there was not a big sea.
Phil Harmon said there had been a number of "flash rips" which came up during the day, depending on the tides, catching people out.
Lifesavers had gone to the aid of 36 people and been involved in two rescues during the day.
He said it was important to swim in patrolled areas and only when lifeguards were on patrol. He also urged people to know their ability and limitations in the water.
Police today thanked members of the Waimarama Surf club involved in the latest rescue.
For some it was the second fatal drowning they had been involved with in the past week.
On Tuesday, 35-year-old Taupo woman Amy Jenny Brown died in the water near the Haumoana river mouth after she tried to rescue two young children in trouble.
Police also hold grave fears for French tourist Pierre Paludet whose car has been parked in a Haumoana Beach car park since Friday. He has not been seen since then.
The latest death will be referred to the coroner.