NZ Local News

Ocean Beach swimming death: Lifesavers warn of unique dangers on Hawke’s Bay coast

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The death of a man in the surf at Ocean Beach on the Hawke’s Bay coast on Friday came just as lifesavers were warning of the unique dangers in the area and preparing for an expected busy holiday season.

The man was identified by police on Monday night as 26-year-old Hyuckjun Kown, of Chatswood, Auckland.

He disappeared in the waves while swimming on Friday and a body was found on Sunday after two days of searches. Police extended condolences to friends and family and said the death would be referred to the coroner.

There’s been an average of at least one beach drowning on the Hawke’s Bay coast every year since 2008, according to Water Safety NZ statistics.

Friday’s was at least the 18th fatality in that time, with 15 of them occurring between the months of November and March.

The man who died at Ocean Beach was understood to have been caught in a rip, similar to that from which seven people, mainly children and teenagers, were rescued six days earlier at nearby Waimārama Beach, Hawke’s Bay’s most popular beach, just a few kilometres south of the where Friday’s early afternoon tragedy occurred.

The death came just hours before the start of more than six weeks of daily lifeguarding in the region, with the regular weekend patrols by Surf Life Saving Club members to be complemented by the weekday paid lifeguard service which started on Monday at Ocean Beach, Waimarama, Waipatiki and Napier beaches Westshore and Hardinge Rd in Ahuriri.

Rescues take place at Hawke’s Bay beaches regularly each summer, but still there have been drownings of swimmers and divers.

On the lookout - Waimārama Surf Life Saving Club member Olivia Jackson scans the beach and the surf. Photo / Connull Lang
On the lookout – Waimārama Surf Life Saving Club member Olivia Jackson scans the beach and the surf. Photo / Connull Lang

Waimārama Surf Life Saving Club chairman Ken Laurie told Hawke’s Bay Today the rescues on December 9 were effectively two near-simultaneous incidents in the patrolled area between the flags in front of the clubhouse.

That included the shallows, where the Waimārama rip gouges a deep trough within seconds, quickly catching swimmers out of their depth, sometimes just a step or two from firm footing. He said the first involved a parent and two children who “fell” into the trough, and the second almost immediately afterwards involved two teenagers and two children.

People at the beach on the Saturday said that others were helped to safety by members of the public.

No inflatable rescue boats were needed, none of those rescued was understood to have required treatment and Laurie said it was fortunate no one was harmed. However, it was a timely reminder of the dangers as people start flocking to beaches over the summer.

Laurie said there were significant numbers at the beach at the time and about 12 surf life-savers on duty, but on Sunday there were “just about more lifeguards than swimmers in the water”.

A welcome arrival at Waimārama on Sunday was Santa, who mixed with Surf Life Saving "nippers", the lifeguards of the future. Photo / Connull Lang
A welcome arrival at Waimārama on Sunday was Santa, who mixed with Surf Life Saving “nippers”, the lifeguards of the future. Photo / Connull Lang

At the weekend, juniors from the Ocean Beach club, unable to use their own beach because of the tragedy, had their regular Sunday “nippers” session at Waimārama, where the Waimārama club was also staging its junior sessions on the beach.

Laurie said the lifesavers keep watch over the entire beach and people on the shore can see rips developing, but the recent rescues highlighted the need to swim in the patrolled area.

Surf Life Saving NZ central region life-saving manager Justine Fleming said 22 surf life-savers have been enlisted for the paid service in Hawke’s Bay for the summer, with beaches patrolled daily midweek from 10.30am to 6pm.

The service is paid for through local councils. The lifeguards include some working while home from university and some who, while being trained surf life-savers and active members of their clubs, will be paid lifeguards for the first time.

The website safeswim.org.nz provides up-to-date conditions at beaches throughout the country.



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