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Kiwi duo drown in wedding tragedy

Last updated 14:26 13/12/2012

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The mother of a Kiwi bride and a friend who tried to save her have drowned in Rarotonga, a day before the wedding.

Judith Lorraine Palmer, 62, drowned yesterday while swimming in a lagoon near where she and her husband, Auckland city police chief inspector John Palmer, were staying.

Auckland police said a close family friend of the couple, Robert Groves, 64, also died while trying to help her. The families were neighbours from Birkenhead. Their bodies were recovered by locals about an hour after the drowning.

Both couples were in Vaimaanga, Rarotonga for the the wedding of the Palmers' daughter Vanessa which was scheduled to take place today. It has since been postponed.

Auckland City district commander, Superintendent Mike Clement, said the double tragedy had hit Chief Inspector Palmer and his wider family hard.

"We are all reeling from the news and can only imagine the magnitude of the devastation John, his family and the Groves family are feeling," Clement said.

"I know personally that the trip to Rarotonga for Vanessa's wedding was to be the highlight of the year for John and Judy and that much planning and anticipation surrounded it."

John and Judy Palmer had been married for 42 years.

John Woods, the publisher of the Cook Islands News, said the pair died in an area "infamous for drownings and disappearances".

"It is a turbulent passage in the right conditions," he said.

He believed as many as eight people may have died in the passage in the past decade.

"It is notoriously dangerous, and there are signs there."

In the past couple of days the area had been hit by strong southeasterlies and a 1.9 metre swell, making it even more dangerous. 

"It is a well known dangerous swimming area, and for fishing, but people who know what they are doing love it."

There are no big resorts near the passage, other than the abandoned Sheraton complex.

Woods said Rarotonga would feel the deaths sharply as Vanessa Palmer was a high profile triathlete and was the PE teacher at the island's Tereora College.

"She is a real personality on the island. Her and her bloke were to get married today.

"A really great athlete, you see her on the road everyday, and she really shares her knowledge."

Clement said he and police commissioner Peter Marshall had spoken with Palmer on several occasions in the past 24 hours to offer support at "this very distressing time".

Commissioner Marshall had also spoken to the Commissioner of the Cook Islands police and thanked him for the support he was giving the Chief Inspector and his family, Clement said.

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