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Kiwi who drowned in Rarotonga was best man at sister's wedding days before

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Dec 2023, 3:47pm
Tony Thorp died near the Avaavaroa Passage, where people can swim with turtles. Photo / Stas Kulesh
Tony Thorp died near the Avaavaroa Passage, where people can swim with turtles. Photo / Stas Kulesh

Kiwi who drowned in Rarotonga was best man at sister's wedding days before

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Dec 2023, 3:47pm

A Kiwi who drowned in Cook Islands waters that are popular with people swimming with turtles had been visiting the country for his sister’s wedding. 

Tony Thorp, 50, died on Tuesday in Rarotonga a lagoon opposite the Avaavaroa Passage after getting caught in a rip, his “shocked and shattered” sister Sarah Thorp says. 

Local tour operators tried to save Thorp and almost drowned themselves while doing so, his sister told Stuff. 

“He couldn’t hold on any longer – he did try, and he did fight.” 

Thorp had been the best man at his sister’s wedding a few days earlier and his family would remember him for his smiles at the special occasion. 

“We are shocked and shattered beyond repair by the loss of Tony. It’ll be a few days before we’re allowed to take him home,” Sarah Thorp told Stuff. 

She said her brother’s partner was at the beach with him when it happened and the rest of the family rushed to the scene shortly afterwards. 

She said he’d been caught in a “dangerous rip”. 

Cook Island locals commenting on social media said while the area was well known as a spot tour operators take people to swim with turtles, it was also dangerous when not patrolled by life guards. 

Cook Islands police told the Herald earlier this week they were alerted to a man in difficulty in the water about 4pm on Tuesday. 

The police spokesman said a tour operator recovered the man’s body from the water but he was unresponsive. 

Police expected a medical report before they would refer the death to the coroner. 

Local tour company Ocean Toa Cook Islands said the man was alone when he died and was swimming outside tour operating hours. 

“This is sad news for us all and our deepest condolences to the anau [family] and those involved,” the company said. 

It said the drowning was a “stark reminder” of how dangerous the water around Rarotonga could be. 

“Our waters ... should not be underestimated. Your individual safety should never be compromised,” the company said. 

“In our tikanga and akonoanga Māori, we have suspended our tours today as a mark of respect to the family and the loss that has occurred in our waters.” 

In a separate incident three months ago, 73-year-old New Zealand sailor Clive Nothling died off the coast of Fiji when his yacht’s boom swung and hit him. 

Another Kiwi, Karain Eketone, had his head sliced open by a boat’s propellor while he was snorkelling in Fiji in July. He survived, needing urgent surgery and a medical evacuation flight home to Hamilton. 

Kiwi man Karain Eketone’s skull was sliced open by a boat’s propeller while snorkelling in Fiji, turning his and his wife’s "much-needed break" into a near-death experience. Photo / Susan EketoneKiwi man Karain Eketone’s skull was sliced open by a boat’s propeller while snorkelling in Fiji, turning his and his wife’s "much-needed break" into a near-death experience. Photo / Susan Eketone 

Eketone, 42, a father of four and grandfather of two, desperately tried to protect himself as the boat sped towards him, raising his arms to his head. 

Surgeons performed a craniotomy on Eketone - a procedure to remove part of his skull and a portion of his brain - and a plastic surgeon repaired one of his severed arteries. 

Several days after his surgery, a doctor noticed Eketone, still sedated, was unbelievably moving his feet to music playing on the radio in the intensive care unit. 

Clive Nothling, of Kerikeri, on board his yacht Second Life in Fiji, September 2023. He died when he was struck by a section of the yacht's mast off the coast of Fiji.Clive Nothling, of Kerikeri, on board his yacht Second Life in Fiji, September 2023. He died when he was struck by a section of the yacht's mast off the coast of Fiji. 

Nothling was survived by his widow, who told the Herald the day after his death: “I’m heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken. I don’t know how I’m even talking right now.” 

Passengers aboard the Pacific Explorer, a 2000-berth pleasure cruiser, witnessed an attempted rescue, with video footage showing Nothling’s yacht, Second Lifebobbing against its hull. 

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