Man drowned when swept out by rip

TOM HUNT
Last updated 14:42 14/12/2012

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Porirua

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A surfer whose day in the waves at Titahi Bay turned into an heroic rescue has had his life-saving actions praised.

But in findings released today into the January 14 drowning of Albert Alapati, coroner Garry Evans has recommended that Porirua City Council erect signs ''as soon as possible'' at each end of the Porirua beach, warning people of rips.

The council was told in May this year by Surf Lifesaving New Zealand that it needed signs at the beach and needed to have life-saving services extended.

On January 14, Albert Alapati, 24, a former Porirua College head boy, was with his younger brother Sae, his girlfriend Lucile Fruean and her sister Talina Fruean on Titahi Bay.

Albert, who had asthma and was unable to swim, went into the sea with the others and all four were swept out to sea in a rip.

While Talina and Sae were picked up and brought to shore, the other two struggled and were swept towards rocks.

Surfer Jason Wilson arrived at the beach and was told of the pair struggling in the water.

He immediately headed out in the rip.

Another man, Mike Pearson - who had already saved the other two - also tried to save them in his dinghy, but was unable to get Lucile in.

''She was struggling to keep afloat, [Mr Wilson] made his way to her, held out his surfboard and told her to hang on to it.''

Mr Wilson then realised she was struggling because she was holding on to Albert, who was beneath the water.

Lucile held on to the surfboard as the pair battled in big waves.

Mr Wilson held onto Albert, who was blue in the face, unconscious and frothing from the mouth.

After 10 minutes Mr Wilson was dragged under by another wave, ripping Albert from his arms and out of sight.

''It was a case of lose one to save myself and the girl,'' Mr Wilson later said.

About five minutes later more surfers arrived, then later a rescue boat arrived.

Mr Wilson was disappointed with how long it took surf life-savers to reach him.

Mr Evans noted: ''It is plain to see Lucile owes her life to Mr Wilson, whose valiant endeavours to save Albert's life were thwarted by the exceptional sea conditions prevailing at the time.''

Four days later Albert's body was found washed up in front of boatsheds at the beach.

Mr Evans noted of the five surf life-savers on that day, one had already finished for the day. Of the remaining four, two were being audited and did not see the unfolding drama. They headed out to the rescue as soon as they were aware of the situation.

Mr Evans was also noted it was  ''imprudent'' of the group to swim outside the flags.

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Contact Tom Hunt
Breaking news reporter
Email: tom.hunt@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @tomdom76

- The Dominion Post

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