Lake Tarawera drowning victims named

04:05, Dec 02 2013

The victims of the Lake Tarawera drowning have been named as Zoujie Cai, 40, and his 6-year-old daughter Zexuan.

Emergency services racing to save the Auckland man and his daughter on Lake Tarawera arrived just two minutes too late.

The father desperately tried to hold his daughter's head above the water for up to eight minutes after they fell out of their kayak, before they drowned in front of shocked onlookers. 

Emergency services were at the scene, 300m from the shore, about 10 minutes after getting the call at 11am, Constable Colin Fraser, of the Rotorua search and rescue service said.

"The rescue chopper went out straight away, so it was there very quickly, coastguards were paged straight away, and a member of the coastguard who lived a couple of hundred metres away from the scene," he said.

"He had his boat in the water within about 5 minutes, and was at the scene in 10."

Rescuers yesterday recovered two bodies from the lake, near Rotorua.

Cai and Zexuan were on holiday and at the lake with other relatives when they fell into the water. The girl was wearing an adult-sized jacket which came off when she fell into the water, Fraser told Morning Report.
"She fell out of the kayak and the adult lifejacket just slipped right off her.''

The father was not wearing a life jacket.

"The dad, he grabbed his daughter and was trying to hold her up. He called for help, and he was trying to support his daughter for as long as he could, but help couldn't get there in time."
Shocked onlookers watched as he eventually tired and they both slipped below the water's surface.
Several people nearby, believed to be extended family members, tried to save them, with one man swimming out and another woman dragging a kayak to the water.
While they rushed to help them, another girl filmed the incident on her phone.
Fraser said the father had been doing what thousands of fathers would have been doing, out with their families enjoying the summer.
Conditions were calm at the time of the tragedy, he said.

Locals and holidaymakers, as well as emergency services and coastguard, helped with the search for the pair before the bodies were recovered.