Friends saw no warnings near fatal rapids

LUKE KIRKEBY
Last updated 09:48 22/02/2014

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Tears rolled down the face of Mathew Slade's riding partner as she recounted the day the Australian Mounted Games equestrian rider died swimming in the Waikato River near Taupo.

An inquest into the 21-year-old rider's death on January 9, 2013, was held in Taupo yesterday.

Mr Slade was swimming with friends near the Aratiatia rapids, north of Taupo, when he got caught up in fast-flowing water and drowned.

Mr Slade's riding partner, Lauren Mary Terrill, broke down as she read her police statement.

She said they were swimming with a group who had come from a riding training camp at the nearby Fiber Fresh National Equestrian Centre.

"We were both riders and friends, and he was a good swimmer," she said.

"We would swim out from about hip level down to a boat ramp and come up again but Matt swam out too far into the middle of the river and floated past the ramp.

"I ran down the side of the river and he was trying to float on his back.

"He was on the far side of the river [by that stage]. He started to call out for help and then he went under.

"We watched until we couldn't see him any more."

Ryan Davis, another friend of Mr Slade, said it was the third time they had gone swimming that day but the water had become a lot faster.

"We didn't go too far out as the water was swift and it was almost like he was showing off," Mr Davis said.

"When he went past the boat ramp, we initially laughed but after about 10 seconds we knew it was serious.

"I shouted at him to relax and stay up.

"I tried to get closer down by the river but I couldn't, so I went further down stream and stood there for about 15 minutes but he never came up."

He said the group had not seen any signage saying the water was dangerous.

"Maybe there was signage but we missed it. If there had been the right signage it would have definitely helped to deter us from going in."

Senior Constable Barry Sheppard said that while warning signs had been placed at more popular swimming spots along the river, people did not always pay attention to them.

"It would be so nice to have an answer to solving this but I am not sure there is one answer," he said.

Mr Sheppard also noted that the section of the Waikato River in question was controlled by the opening and shutting of the dam, which could significantly change the water level and flow.

The coroner, Gordon Matenga, reserved his decision while further inquiries and possible recommendations were made with Mighty River Power and the equestrian centre.

"Hopefully we will be able to ease some pain and avoid another death in the future," Mr Matenga said.

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Mr Slade's parents were not present at the inquest but requested a written statement was read on their behalf, outlining the need for action.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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