Lifejacket plea after death and close call
BRONWYN TORRIE, PAUL EASTON AND SOPHIE SPEER
A Lower Hutt man died and a 4-year-old girl was swept out to sea after both ended up in the water without lifejackets.
Leon Grant Scurrah, 49, died in Wellington Harbour on Saturday while on a fishing trip with a lifelong mate.
The day after his death, a 4-year-old and her 44-year-old father were swept out to sea when their kayak capsized at the Tukituki River mouth in Hawke's Bay.
None was wearing a lifejacket, prompting a call for the Government to make wearing them compulsory on small water-craft.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said it was "idiotic" not to put a lifejacket on a child. "Ignorance is bliss until someone dies."
Hawke's Bay acting senior sergeant Mike Stevenson said the girl and her father were trying to paddle across the estuary when their double kayak capsized, plunging them into the water about 12.45pm yesterday.
They were being swept out to sea before stranding on a gravel island about 50 metres offshore from Haumoana.
A passerby used a longboard to paddle out and retrieve the girl while another person swam to help her father. The girl was suffering from mild hypothermia.
People were still not getting the message about water safety, Stevenson said. "I don't think many 4-year-olds are that capable of swimming."
Wellington Maritime Police senior launch master Barry Hart said he was "absolutely sure" Scurrah would still be alive if he had been wearing a lifejacket.
"Obviously it's a tragedy for the families involved but there's a very clear message - but for a lifejacket the victim would have survived. I'm absolutely sure of it."
Hart said Scurrah and a friend were fishing from a 3.5m aluminium dinghy about 50m off Horokiwi when it tipped over as one of them stood up.
They clung to the side while it was semi-submerged for a brief period.
"They saw that they were not very far from shore and made the decision that they would swim. The victim started swimming but I believe he said to his friend, ‘I'm struggling here a little bit,' but he was very close to shore at the time.
"The survivor continued to shore, looked around and basically established that his buddy was gone."
The survivor flagged down a cyclist on Hutt Rd to raise the alarm.
Senior sergeant Brett Simon of Lower Hutt police said the pair set off from a Petone boat ramp at about 2.45pm.
They had set a fishing net and the boat tipped over when one of them stood up.
Simon understood there were lifejackets on the dinghy, but they had been stowed away
"For whatever reason they had decided not to wear them."
Police, the coastguard, a recreational boat and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter searched for about two hours for Scurrah. His body was found about 20 metres from the shore and in about two metres of water.
The survivor was distraught at the loss of Scurrah, a friend for more than 20 years, Simon said
The sea was calm and winds light. Hart said the harbour was relatively safe, but small boats and kayaks were constantly getting into trouble.
"I've worked in the maritime unit here for nearly 14 years. Just about every one of the fatalities that I've attended have been inside the harbour rather than out in the open waters."
NATIONAL LAW A 'NO BRAINER'
Regions including Wellington, Hawke's Bay and Waikato have local bylaws requiring the wearing of lifejackets at all times.
However, Water Safety chief executive Matt Claridge said it was a "no brainer" to make the requirement a national law.
In June, it was revealed the Government had backed off making it compulsory to wear lifejackets on small watercraft.
Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said: “In the absence of good evidence that compulsory wearing of lifejackets will make a safety difference, I don't think that New Zealanders will thank me for over-regulating in this area.”
Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman Sharyn Forsyth said people should wear lifejackets at all times. "You never know what might go wrong. It's very easy in small boats for them to overturn."
Lifejacket prices start at $40.
Nineteen people died from recreational boating accidents, including drownings, in the year to June 30.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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