Family, friends mourn 'careful' boatie's death

MATT RILKOFF AND MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2014

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Dale Baker was on the cusp of a new life when he was killed in a jet boating accident.

The 51-year-old Onaero drilling rig supervisor, known as Snowy because of his blond hair, had his north Taranaki rural property on the market and was looking at sheep and beef farms in Manawatu.

"I think he had just had enough of the oil industry," said his friend of 35 years, Steven Lye.

"He had been in it since he was 20 years old and he had got as high as he could go. He just wanted to do something where he could settle down and not run off all the time."

Instead, the father of two was killed instantly when his jet-boat Bang-On spun out of control and crashed into a willow tree on the bank of the Ngaruroro River, 10km west of Hastings, on Saturday.

A number of Taranaki people were in Mr Baker's boat at the time. One, Leanne Lilly, remains in Hawke's Bay Hospital in a stable condition in the intensive care ward. Three others were treated for minor injuries.

Married to Baker for 25 years, his former wife Sandra said friends and family were in a state of "total shock" at his death.

"Dale was one of the safest, most cautious, most thoughtful person to other people there could ever be. He was always, always careful. Careful to the max. Never in a million years did we think something like this could happen to Dale," she said.

The pair had two children aged 25 and 16.

Baker's neighbour, Peter Blakelock, was stunned on hearing of the death yesterday. "I'd heard about a man dying but hadn't though anything of it because it was over in the Hawke's Bay," he said.

"He was a great guy, really likeable."

Darrel Nicholas said he had known Mr Baker since their time at Waitara High School together more than 30 years ago.

He had seen him as recently as Friday when they had a cup of tea together.

"He told me about the trip he was taking. He was pretty excited about it. He had done it a number of times before," he said.

Nicholas said Baker would be remembered as a hard worker who always put his kids first and would help anyone without question.

Lowe Corp rescue helicopter pilot Jeremy Bruce attended the scene and said the braided river was a popular spot for jet boaters.

The crew touched down on a gravel patch about 15m from the boat, which was wedged in trees on the river bank.

The surviving members of the party were stunned. "They were quite distressed and traumatised as you can imagine," Bruce said.

Lilly had suffered neck and chest injuries but was conscious when paramedics took her to the helicopter.

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Maritime New Zealand spokesperson Jessie Davis said crashes, injuries and deaths were rare given the number of people who participated in recreational jet boating.

- The Dominion Post

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