Pupils told of drowning tragedy

Last updated 12:28 03/12/2013

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Classmates and friends of a 6-year-old Auckland girl who died with her father in a kayaking accident on Lake Tarawera are being offered counselling to deal with the news.

Zoujie Cai, 40, and his 6-year-old daughter Zexuan (Sharon) died on Sunday after they fell out of their kayak on the lake, near Rotorua.

Sharon was a pupil at Campbell's Bay School on Auckland's North Shore, and principal John McGowan said in an email to parents this morning it was with "profound regret" he shared the tragic news.

"Given the magnitude of the news, and having taken advice from professional counsellors, I decided that it is best for you to share the news of the death of Sharon with your child in a way that you think is best.

"While I am aware that there are some children at school who are aware of the news; many others are not.  Most children will be hearing this news from you for the first time."

McGowan said the school had engaged the services of a counsellor. 

"This is a terrible time for Sharon's family . . .  a family that has so tragically lost a loved child and father/husband in one terrible event."

Cai 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.

Cai and Sharon 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.

Meanwhile New Zealand's leading boating educator, Coastguard Boating Education (CBE), today said the tragedy emphasised that it was more important than ever for children and their families to learn about safety on the water.

CBE general manager Neil Murray said wearing a lifejacket should be standard behaviour for all boaties, particularly in smaller boats.

It is a legal requirement for enough lifejackets of the right type and size to be carried on any boat, and for them to be worn at any time of heightened risk, but Murray said they should be worn at all times, especially by children and non-swimmers.

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