Hero 'had to choose' which kids to save from drowning on North Shore beach

Miriam Burrell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 Jan 2022, 9:07am

Hero 'had to choose' which kids to save from drowning on North Shore beach

Miriam Burrell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 Jan 2022, 9:07am

A man who came to the rescue of four young children caught in a rip on Auckland's North Shore had to choose which two to save first. 

Jacob Laban, 28, along with the help of his brother-in-law "who almost didn't make it", managed to save the group of unattended children who had washed out around 100 metres from the shore of Murrays Bay on January 3. 

He is urging parents to keep an eye on their children while they are in the water this summer, following a tragically fatal start to the season. 

Thirty-two people have drowned since the beginning of December — seven more than the total for all of last summer. 

Laban said he was scared that death could have been the outcome for the three boys and one girl who he guessed were aged 10 and younger. 

"[I am] glad we were there, otherwise it would have been a different story. It might have been a sad day." 

Murrays Bay is an unpatrolled beach. 

The water was unusually rough and the waves were powerful last Monday, Laban said. 

There were three boys and one young girl aged 4 or 5, and only two floaties between them, he said. 

They seemed panicked and the young girl was crying. 

"I called out for them to come back in, and one of the youngest ones started crying, started panicking. 

"So I swam out there. I tried to bring two in because there were only two floaties between four of them. 

"Two were wearing them and the other two were just hanging off it so I only could bring two in, I told the others to stay there and wait." 

Laban swam two boys back to shore. He said he felt scared in the moment. 

"I knew I couldn't save all four of them, so I had to choose between the four. I just grabbed the one that was panicking the most. 

"They were just crying. They were confused, they didn't know what to do. I don't know if they were calling out because they were way too far out for anyone to hear." 

He said his brother-in-law Joe Lasini noticed the commotion and came to help. He grabbed the two other children and swam them back to shore. 

While the children were being rescued, Laban's nephew ran to the Murrays Bay Sailing Club in search of assistance. 

"My brother almost didn't make it." 

Both men were extremely tired from rescuing the children and having to fight against the waves. Lasini coughed up seawater when he returned to the beach, and had to lie on his stomach for around 15 minutes out of fear he would pass out. 

The rescued children ran to their parents, who were on the other side of the beach, Laban said. 

"They didn't know anything until my mum went there and started explaining what happened. They just said thank you, they didn't do much." 

Laban said it was disappointing it appeared no adults were supervising the children. 

"Could have done with at least one of the [adults] out there watching them. 

"The fact they were so young, especially with a lot of people drowning in the summer, and then for that to happen." 

Laban's sister and Lasini's wife Maggie watched the rescue from the beach. She told the Herald her brother was in shock when he came back to shore. 

"Usually he's a strong guy, but it was like he was in shock and also like he was trying to catch his breath." 

Her husband thought he wasn't going to make it back into shore, Lasini said. 

"My husband was spewing up water and we had to leave him just lying on his stomach because he just felt like he was going to pass out." 

She said the children ran straight to their parents "bawling their eyes out" when they returned to the beach. 

"We could have lost my husband and my brother there on that day and yet these people are ... sitting there." 

Their message to parents is clear – keep an eye on your children. 

"It would have turned out to be a really horrific tragedy that day," said Maggie.