Lake lies silent after popular teen drowns

GEORGINA STYLIANOU AND CAROLINE KING
Last updated 11:04 17/12/2012
lake pegasus

DEADLY WATERS: Lake Pegasus, which was closed after the drowning of a Christchurch teenager on Saturday.

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At least one other person got into difficulty while swimming at Pegasus Town, where a 16-year-old Christchurch boy drowned.

Tominiko Junior Pelenato drowned on Saturday afternoon while swimming in the lake at the Pegasus Town development in North Canterbury.

He was lost underwater for about 20 minutes as his friends and people nearby desperately tried to bring him to the surface.

Sergeant Rene Pabst said Tominiko was among five people from a church group to jump into the lake after a game of touch.

The group had been at the lake for an end-of-year breakup, he said.

Pabst said Tominiko and another boy from the group "got into difficulty" in the water.

People from the shore dived in to assist and "they managed to help another boy", but Tominiko was unable to be found in time.

Pabst said bystanders' rescue efforts were hindered by the murkiness of the water.

"Several people jumped in to search for him but it would have been hard to actually spot a person under that water."

He said Tominiko's swimming ability was one aspect being looked at by police to determine what went wrong, as conditions at the lake were calm that day.

Family and friends were said to be "in a state of shock".

They gathered at the Pelenato household in Linwood yesterday to mourn his loss.

Ngai Tahu placed a rahui (ritual prohibition) on the lake after the incident.

Catholic Cathedral College principal Bruce Henley described Tominiko as a "wonderful young man".

"We're just devastated that this has happened. He was a wonderful young man and he was popular with students and teachers."

Henley said Tominiko wore his school uniform with pride and "his tie was always straight".

"I took some flowers to the family house [yesterday] morning on behalf of the school board and students ... and they are in a state of shock. It really is devastating."

He said staff and pupils would attend a special meeting today at the school, where counselling and support would be offered.

Tominiko had just finished his third year at the school.

A Facebook tribute page, R.I.P Tominiko Junior Pelenato, had nearly 1000 likes this morning.

St John was alerted to the incident at 12.05pm and sent an ambulance and the Westpac rescue helicopter.

Garden City Helicopters general manager Simon Duncan said paramedics were flying back from water-rescue training at Taylors Mistake when they were redirected to Pegasus after receiving the call from St John.

"The staff from the hire centre on the lake at Pegasus had taken out their inflatable boat to look for the boy ... He had been under water for 20 minutes before he was recovered," Duncan said.

"It's a very unfortunate thing that has happened, and especially at this time of year. It really is awful."

A St John spokesman said Tominiko was pronounced dead at 12.39pm. The matter has been referred to the coroner, who will determine the cause of death.

Connor Roberts, a spokesman for the Todd Property Group, which owns Pegasus, said the group had expressed its condolences to the Pelenato family.

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"It's a terrible tragedy and being this close to Christmas makes it even more painful for family and friends."

Roberts said Tominiko and others had tried to swim from the island to the lake shore. "Tominiko got into difficulty on the trip across and the others tried to help him but they weren't able to keep up above water."

The lake is 13 hectares and up to 7 metres deep in some parts, he said.

"This is a reminder that any body of water carries risk. The lake is usually such a safe place but there is always a danger."

The supervisor of the Pegasus Flat White Cafe, who did not wish to have his name published, said the drowning had "affected everyone".

"It's extremely sad,'' he said. ''We've been pretty quiet [yesterday] and a lot of people coming to swim in the lake . . . have been told they can't so they've gone somewhere else."

Kaiapoi residents Tini and Miranda Mulder had driven to Pegasus for an afternoon swim and were unaware of the drowning and rahui.

"It seems like such a safe place to swim and it's very strange to not see people in the lake," Tini Mulder said.

The lake will be blessed and the rahui lifted today.

DROWNINGS

On average, 105 New Zealanders die by drowning each year. As of December 6, 84 people had drowned in New Zealand this year. By the same date last year there were 120 drownings.

- The Press

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