Lifeguards saved two lives during the deadly weekend, highlighting the need to swim between flags

Our new PM gets set to reshuffle cabinet, a deadly reminder about water safety and how the UK will celebrate King Charles’ coronation in the latest New Zealand Herald headlines. Video / NZ Herald

Lifeguards have saved two lives at Auckland beaches over the weekend, highlighting how important it is to swim in areas patrolled by lifeguards.

The two lives were saved at Whangārei Heads and Muriwai during a period in which six people drowned at other locations in the Auckland region – at least five of whom were at unpatrolled beaches or beaches where lifeguards had finished their duties for the day.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region chief executive Matt Williams said lifeguards were able to respond quickly to the two separate incidents involving spinal injuries at Whangārei Heads and Muriwai.

“Both incidents occurred between the flags, caused by swimmers being dumped into the sand by large waves, and could easily have proved fatal had lifeguards not been on hand to respond.”

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Williams said comparing the lifesaving incidents with the drownings showed a clear link to the importance of lifeguards.

He called on people to swim between the flags.

“Simply put, if you swim at a patrolled beach, during patrol hours, in between the flags, you are going to have a lifeguard nearby who can respond immediately if something happens,” he said.

“If you swim at an unpatrolled beach, or outside patrol hours, you are placing yourself at an incredible risk. These deaths were tragic, but some may have been preventable if lifeguards were actively patrolling the area.”

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Surf Live Saving says the recent drownings predominantly occurred at beaches where lifeguards weren't on duty.  Photo / Alex Burton
Surf Live Saving says the recent drownings predominantly occurred at beaches where lifeguards weren’t on duty. Photo / Alex Burton

Williams said his team were open to discussing ways to try to patrol more beaches or improve safety outcomes.

“However, for our organization it is a question of resourcing and manpower,” he said.

“Ultimately, our weekday paid lifeguarding service, which operates over the summer months, has a limited capability and limited funding. Similarly, our weekend patrol services rely on our committed volunteer lifeguards, so there are limitations there.”

The six drownings included one on Sunday at the unpatrolled Tawharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland.

On Saturday, one person died at Takapuna, while two people died at North Piha despite United North Piha lifeguards’ attempts to rescue them after the patrol had ended for the day, Williams said.

Two people drowned at unpatrolled beaches on Friday, one at Narrow Neck Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, and another at Big Manly Beach on the Whangaparāoa peninsula.

Williams said there were examples of communities starting patrol services with the support of the Northern Region, most recently at Baylys Beach, near Dargaville, which resumed patrols in 2021, when the club was re-established after a nearly 20-year hiatus.

He added that some clubs were setting up temporary patrols where there was a need.

That included at Pākiri, north of Leigh, Takapuna beach, Long Bay and Wenderholm.

All of our patrolling locations and times can be found on the Safe Swim website, https://safeswim.org.nz/, Williams said.

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‘No one to live for’

The grief-stricken wife of one of the men who died at Piha Beach on Saturday, meanwhile, has revealed that she has been left utterly lost and bereft after earlier losing her family in India to Covid.

“She has no one to care for and no one to live for,” a friend of the two dead men, Hiren Patel, told the Herald.

The pair who lost their lives at the Auckland west coast beach had chosen one of the most dangerous spots to enter the water and family said they did not know how to swim.

Indian High Commission second secretary Durga Dass confirmed the two men were Saurin Nayankumar Patel and Anshul Shah, who both hailed from Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Flowers at the North Piha surf lifesaving tower and the beach patrol where there was a double fatality.  Photo / Alex Burton
Flowers at the North Piha surf lifesaving tower and the beach patrol where there was a double fatality. Photo / Alex Burton

Patel, 28, was an electrical engineer who arrived in New Zealand in August, while Shah, 31, worked as a cashier at a fuel station and arrived here in November.

“It is a massive tragedy for the Indian community, the loss of these two men, and our thoughts go out to their families,” Dass said.

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Hiren said another friend, Apurv Modi, was also in the water when a “rogue wave” pulled the trio apart.

Modi reached for Patel’s hand but could not hold on as he “screamed and shouted” for help, Hiren said.

“It is with God’s grace that Apurv Modi survived. He managed to come to shore but he lost his friends,” Hiren said.

Horror weekend as drowning toll rises to six

Yesterday afternoon the drowning toll rose to six when a person died following a water-related emergency at Tāwharanui Regional Park.

Beachgoers performed CPR on a man for 30 minutes until paramedics arrived at Anchor Bay.

Police confirmed that someone died at the beach shortly before 2pm.

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Three earlier deaths occurred between late Friday afternoon and Saturday morning in Auckland, including a person who police described as dying in a “water incident” at a Takapuna address on Saturday.

The evening before, a man and woman died after they were pulled unconscious from the water by bystanders within half an hour of each other at Auckland northern suburbs beaches Narrow Neck and Big Manly, on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula.

Hot weather in Auckland led people to flock to beaches such as Piha over the weekend.  Photo / Alex Burton
Hot weather in Auckland led people to flock to beaches such as Piha over the weekend. Photo / Alex Burton

The alarm was raised at Narrow Neck Beach about 4.30pm when someone pointed to an “upside-down” woman about 10m away from him in the water and asked, “Is she all right?”, one rescuer told the Herald.

He turned her over and pulled her to shore, where an off-duty lifeguard and about 15 others tried to help the unresponsive woman before an ambulance arrived.

“Half an hour later, bystanders also pulled an unresponsive man from the water at Big Manly Beach,” Manly resident Johnny Lind said.

“He was swimming and we saw, out of our window, his buttocks sticking up.

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“We thought he may have been snorkelling, as a lot of people do that here.”

Police later confirmed the man had died.

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