Friends stay at river until body found

Friends watched as their mate's body was pulled from the Waikato River, nearly seven hours after they were frolicking in pristine waters on a hot summer's day.

In two weeks, it will be exactly a year since another teenager drowned in almost identical circumstances at the same spot.

Police were called about 4.15pm on Thursday and found Cole Justice Williams' body on the river floor after a half-hour search involving Harbourmaster and Coastguard. The police national dive squad arrived at 9.45pm.

The 17-year-old from Fielding had been swimming with a group of up to four friends near Taupo's Riverside Park when he got into trouble.

They didn't leave the water's edge until Cole's body was pulled out at 11pm.

"It's a beautiful location, but it's a big body of swiftly moving water at times and it can catch people unawares," Sergeant Shane McNally, of Taupo police said.

Upstream there's a hanging rope where kids stand on the bank and swing out into "this beautiful deep water" then swim back to shore.

There would have been "hundreds" of people jumping off there on Thursday afternoon.

"The boys were swimming, talking, drifting down the river and this young man went too far into the flow," Mr McNally said.

"[He] went under, came back up,

yelled out something, disappeared a couple more times and he was last seen by people on shore and his friend in the water.

His body was found a short distance from where he was last seen, on the bed of the river."

Mr McNally described it as "a tragic waste of life"; a life taken while the teen was doing something every Kiwi likes to do - cooling off in beautiful water on a hot summer's day, hanging out with friends.

"But people need to be critically aware that swift water can have tragic consequences.

"I don't know how many incidents I've been involved in at the same area: Heaps."

March 7, 2013, was a Thursday, too. That afternoon Turangi's David Clark, 15, was jumping off a high cliff with four friends .

On his second jump his friends watched as he leapt into the river and was swept downstream before he disappeared under the surface.

Police dive squad members recovered David's body from a 7-metre-deep hole late that night.

Mr McNally said the circumstances and location of both drownings were almost identical.

The boy who drowned on Thursday was healthy and fit, he said.

"It's the same with any river - swift moving water is dangerous and people need to be aware of their own abilities in that water.

"People can rapidly get into trouble and a tragedy can result. It's knowing your own ability around rivers and swift moving water."

Cole's death was not suspicious and has been reported to the coroner.

There were other people on the riverbank who would have seen what happened and a couple of people spoke to officers briefly at the scene but left without providing their details. Police would like to speak to these people to get their account of events, or anyone else who has information that might assist their investigation.

Friends saw no warnings near fatal rapids, page A5

Waikato Times