Lifejackets the answer 'time and time again'

Last updated 05:00 09/01/2014

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The cost of a lifejacket is too often the price tag put on a life, the police national dive squad chief says.

The navy dive team flew in from Auckland yesterday to help search for Upper Hutt man Uikilifi Peniamina, 49.

He was not wearing a lifejacket when he was knocked overboard in rough waters on Sunday afternoon, near the mouth of the Hutt River.

Inspector Marc Paynter said lifejackets were "time and time again the answer".

"The value of a lifejacket could be the value of a life . . . they save lives, that's exactly what they do," he said.

About 300 metres from the Hutt rivermouth the water remained still and Mr Paynter said there was a reasonable chance Mr Peniamina's body could be found there.

The navy's remote sonar torpedo with GPS abilities would be programmed to search an area over a few hours, the data would be downloaded and then divers would be deployed to search identified targets.

It was expected the survey, scheduled to start this morning, would take up to two days.

While drownings have featured prominently already this year, the number of Wellington drownings reduced last year in line with the national toll that has reached a record low. Five people drowned in the region in 2013 - 6 per cent of the national total of 81 drownings.

The number is down from nine in 2012, with all five deaths those of people aged over 25 - bucking the national trend that has alarm bells ringing over the number of preschoolers dying in New Zealand waters.

Five preschoolers drowned last year, up 67 per cent on 2012. Six young people aged 5 to 14 drowned, the same number as 2012 and doubling the five-year average of three.

Last year's total drownings were down from 98 in 2012 and the lowest number since records began in 1980.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said, "Overall, it's great that the toll is tracking down but 81 deaths is still a huge number, ranking us amongst the worst in the developed world. And no preschoolers should be drowning in this country."

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- The Dominion Post

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