New Zealand's drowning toll rises

NEW Zealand's drowning toll is now more prominent than the road toll, according to Water Safety New Zealand.

Four people are confirmed dead, and a fifth is missing presumed drowned after a dire Easter in the water.

Water Safety NZ Chief Executive Matt Claridge said the toll was growing and attitudes to water safety needed to change.

"When you're seeing five drownings over the Easter weekend and no deaths on the road that's saying something.

"Often the drowning toll will be higher. It's not a competition but drowning can often be the poor cousin," said Claridge.

Ram Bade was taking pictures of a waterfall at a popular tourist spot on Sunday.

The 28-year-old had been swimming with two friends at Waikino Gorge -- between Paeroa and Waihi -- when he tried to get closer to the waterfall for a photograph shortly after noon.

As he struggled to return to his friends, he was pulled under by the current and desperately screamed for help.

His friends and visitors tried to save him but ended up needing to be rescued themselves.

He was one of four drownings over the Easter holiday.

Mr Bade's death followed two drownings in Auckland.

A 55-year-old man died while trying to save a dog from being attacked by swans, and a man aged in his 30s drowned in the Waitemata Harbour near the North Shore Chelsea sugar refinery.

Westport man David Edward Pascoe, 56, died after he was swept off rocks on the West Coast during a king tide.
He had been fishing at Charleston, about 20km south of Westport, when he was washed into the surf by a freak wave about 5pm on Saturday.

Searchers are continuing to scour a Wairarapa beach after a swimmer went missing yesterday afternoon.

The man in his mid-twenties was swimming with a small group of friends about 4.45pm just north of Akitio, 85km south-east of Dannevirke, when he went under the water and did not resurface, Inspector Marty Parker said.

The search for the man resumed this morning and the police dive squad was currently on their way to the scene, Inspector Ken Clymo said.

Several other people, including a seven-year-old, found face down in water at Hahei on the Coromandel yesterday (Mon), had lucky escapes.

Last year's drowning toll of 123 was up 41 per cent on 2010 and was the worst in eight years.

This year's drowning rates were just behind last year -- 41 people died compared to 46 at the same time last year.

"My frustration is in and around the attitude of males. It's complacency, it's lack of thoughtful decision making, and a disregard for one's own safety that's led to most of the drownings," said Mr Claridge.

Water Safety New Zealand statistics showed Maori were over-represented in the statistics.

Of last year's drownings, 24 -- about 20 per cent -- were Maori, while Maori comprised just 14.6 per cent of the population.

Alcohol was a factor in 18 per cent of all drownings.

Mr Claridge said it was disappointing that advice on commonsense decision-making around drinking and recreational boating had to be made off the back of a death.

"The advice is that skippers don't drink and that those people who are out on the boat don't drink either, because you never know when you're going to need the full benefit of your judgment, and alcohol compromises both your judgment and ability to swim."

He said New Zealand's high rate of drowning could be lowered if all children learnt swim and survival skills.

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