Canoeist's death prompts safety warning

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
Constable Glenn Matheson
BARRY HARCOURT
AGED CRAFT: Constable Glenn Matheson with the old canoe recovered with the body of an Italian restaurant worker near Brod Bay in Lake Te Anau on Saturday.

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Police are urging Southlanders to take care on the water this summer after the death of a canoeist in Te Anau.

The body of Italian national Luca Ruffato was found in Brod Bay on Saturday, after the 22-year-old went missing while canoeing on Lake Te Anau.

Constable James Ure, of Te Anau, said the death could have been avoided if Mr Ruffato had been better acquainted with the area's weather and the state of his equipment.

"It's pretty tragic really. It's just some bad decision and he ended up paying with his life."

The bright red canoe Mr Ruffato had gone out in was about 30 years old, in poor repair and not suitable for the weather conditions on Friday, he said. It was important anyone taking to the water this summer made sure their gear was in top condition.

"Police would like to take the opportunity to remind people to fully check that their boating equipment is up to good safety standard, and that they have plans in place to ensure their safety when out on the water."

Boaties and canoeists should carry emergency devices to alert others if they were in trouble, and to make sure they did not exceed their experience level, he said.

Mr Ruffato was reported missing on Friday and a helicopter crew was sent to search for him.

Te Anau police and a helicopter with night-vision equipment resumed the helicopter search at 4am on Saturday, joined by Fiordland Search and Rescue volunteers in another search about 10.30am.

Friends and colleagues of Mr Ruffato also helped scour the shoreline for any signs of the man.

Mr Ure said he believed it was Mr Ruffato's flatmates who had found the body, near his canoe, on Saturday morning.

"It's really tragic. They were pretty upset last night."

Mr Ruffato had been working at La Dolce Vita restaurant in Te Anau for about three weeks. Owner Roberto Lombardi said staff were very upset by his death. "He was a very good worker, a very nice person."

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge cautioned anyone in the water to put safety first. "Check the conditions, let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. Never swim alone and always supervise small children vigilantly."

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- The Southland Times

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