A Christchurch man has drowned after heroically jumping off Maruia Falls in a bid to save his friend, who had been sucked over the 11-metre waterfall.
The police national dive squad arrived at the waterfall, off State Highway 65 south of Murchison, about noon yesterday and began searching for the missing man. His body was recovered yesterday afternoon.
The Nelson police area commander, Inspector Steve Greally, said three friends - two 55-year-old Christchurch men and a 48-year-old Kaiapoi man - stopped at the falls on Saturday on their way from Christchurch to Nelson.
One of the older pair wanted to paddle in the pools above the falls. His friends tried to persuade him against it but he jumped over the barrier fence and was sucked down a chute about 6pm Saturday.
"One of his mates jumped off to try to rescue his mate and the other guy went for help," Mr Greally said.
"People need to understand - for five seconds of fun and poor decision-making, it can take your life."
Some travellers in the parking area below the falls rushed to try to help the third man in rescue efforts.
However, the water below the falls circulated in two huge whirlpools on either side which stopped the men from breaking out.
"They could see both of them going around and around and fighting against the current."
One of the onlookers had a fabric strop which was too short to reach the men but others ran to a nearby house to alert emergency services and got another which they fixed together and tied to a stick.
They then clambered out on a rock ledge below the falls to throw across the water to the men but it was still too short.
One of the men eventually managed to grab it and was dragged to safety but the man who had jumped in to save his friend, was last seen face-down in the water before disappearing.
"We feel for the family and the man who was doing something heroic, albeit extremely dangerous," Mr Greally said.
"When you see a friend in mortal danger, the natural inclination is to jump in."
Constable Willy Squires, of Murchison, praised the actions of those who plucked the survivor from the "vicious current".
"They've done well to retrieve one guy, which was borderline irretrievable."
Murchison Land Search and Rescue, Tasman white water rescue team's Murchison branch, two local volunteer fire brigades and two local ambulances joined rescue efforts on Saturday night, along with Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter.
Mr Squires said the helicopter used its downdraft to move debris in an unsuccessful effort to locate the missing man, before flying the survivor to Nelson Hospital. The third man drove to Nelson on Saturday night to be with his injured friend.
Mr Squires said there had been multiple deaths at the falls over the years but people continued to ignore safety barriers to climb onto rocks above them.
"Unless you've got proper equipment and you know what you're doing, it's never going to end well playing around the top of a waterfall."
Police national dive squad officer in charge, Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, said it was the fifth missing person search he had attended at Maruia Falls in 23 years.
On Wednesday, a Belgian tourist was sucked down a similar chute after standing on the rocks to take photographs. Three Australian kayakers rescued him. He has since been discharged from Nelson Hospital. Fairfax NZ
- Fairfax Media