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'Waves were smashing me': Wife and mother of drowning victims wants better beach warnings

James Pocock,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Jan 2024, 6:28pm

'Waves were smashing me': Wife and mother of drowning victims wants better beach warnings

James Pocock,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Jan 2024, 6:28pm

A Hawke’s Bay woman is calling for more signs advising swimmers of beach risks this summer - one year on from her own family’s double tragedy.

Thursday marked one year since orchardist from Takapau Ian Cruickshank and his son Samuel, 15, died after they were swept out to sea while swimming at Ōpoutere, a remote beach north of the Coromandel Peninsula’s Whangamatā.

The family was enjoying a holiday together up north - wife Donna Cruickshank, sons Ben and Jamie, daughter Isabella and her partner Ethan Goddard were in the water with Ian and Samuel.

The water wasn’t much deeper than Donna’s knees when she was caught in the rip.

“We weren’t out very deep. It was just this rip that formed basically as we were in the water,” Donna said.

“[Cyclone Hale] the week before had formed a trough which we fell into that impacted the currents and which we had no idea was there.”

She said they were jumping waves when she jumped one and realised she had suddenly been pulled out to hip-depth water.

“I thought, this is a bit scary, I wasn’t this far out when I jumped, and by then the current was pulling me one way, the waves were smashing me the other way and I was gone. There was nothing I could do.”

They were all close together when they entered the water, but the rip pulled them apart faster than they could respond.

“Ian was not that far from me when I got into trouble, but when he came back onto the beach he was a long way down. The water pulled us in opposite directions.”

Donna believes beach safety advice is focused on advising people to only swim at patrolled beaches, but more needs to be done to warn people about risks at unpatrolled beaches.

She said Surf Life Saving NZ was a very important part of beach safety, but they could not cover every beach.

SLSNZ patrols 91 beaches across the country during summer but Donna said Central Hawke’s Bay where she lived did not have any officially patrolled beaches to her knowledge and many may not be able to access a patrolled beach.

“Swim between the flags is always good advice, and if there is a patrolled area you should swim there. But New Zealand has so many beaches and only a tiny percentage are patrolled,” she said.

“Many of the unpatrolled, dangerous beaches don’t even have warning signs. I found out after our incident that the local campground and some of the local rescue volunteers had been trying to get the council to put a warning sign up at Ōpoutere Beach for six years with no success.”

She said it may take legislation from the Government to force the arm of some councils to put signs at beaches where they hadn’t already.

“If it’s the law that the public must be warned of potential risks on any work site, shouldn’t there also be a law that requires councils to put up signage that warns the public of potential risks at beaches that are known to have dangerous conditions?”

She suggested having floatation devices available nearby at beaches which aren’t patrolled could also contribute to saving lives.

Napier City Council put permanent water safety signage in place at Marine Parade in 2022, following temporary signage erected after the drowning of a 5-year-old boy.

The council also had a trial of public rescue equipment at sites along Marine Parade, funded by New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) in 2022.

Donna said there would be a coroner’s report into the deaths of her husband and son, but they were in the queue which was “quite long”.

Coroners’ findings can take multiple years to complete, but Donna hopes the recommendations will match her suggestions.

She advises beach-goers in the meanwhile should stay aware of currents at beaches without signs and seek local advice.

“If it feels strong, unusually strong, please get out. Even if you think you are going over the top and you’ll probably be fine. You might be fine, but just don’t risk it.”

“Check out the local beach Facebook page. Because the locals always know.

James Pocock joined Hawke’s Bay Today in 2021 and writes breaking news and features, with a focus on environment, local government and post-cyclone issues in the region. He has a keen interest in finding the bigger picture in research and making it more accessible to audiences. He lives in Napier. [email protected]

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