A Canadian company director who “loved diving” drowned during a scuba trip in Aitutaki yesterday morning.
Gary Donison, 60, was holidaying on the island with his wife Leslie. He died during a tour with tour guides Bubbles Below.
It is understood that the dive on Aitutaki had been completed and everyone had come to the surface.
Thereafter Donison was noticed by a young woman diver as floating head-down in the water without a mask on.
Donison had booked the dive trip for himself and another couple travelling with them.
Company owner Menema Hewett confirmed a Canadian tourist had died while on one of their diving tours. She said her husband Onu had gone with the man to Aitutaki Hospital.
Leslie Donison wasn’t out on the diving trip with her husband and friends, but was called to come to the hospital.
Her husband was declared dead at the hospital. The preliminary determination is death by asphyxiation, though it’s thought natural causes may have contributed.
The two couples had stayed at the Edgewater in Rarotonga last week, then Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort since Friday.
Leslie Donison and Onu Hewett accompanied the body on an Air Raro charter flight to Rarotonga yesterday afternoon, for an official autopsy. His body was carried in a casket built by staff at the resort.
Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said he would be able to comment on the matter after a briefing today.
Gary Donison was president of Donison & Associates in Edmonton, Canada, a small firm that sold high-tech cameras and pipe inspection equipment.
Water Safety Council chairman Brent Fisher said his death was the first confirmed drowning this year. He expressed his condolences to Donison’s wife and their families.
Jason Napa, the resort manager at Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort said, this was an unexpected and tragic loss.
“We wish to send Leslie our deepest sympathies at this time of the sudden loss of her husband, Gary. Their Aitutaki family misses them.
“Our restaurant and front office teams are shocked and saddened by this news as they bonded closely with both Gary and Leslie in the few days since they arrived on Friday.
“They were a lovely, very happy couple, Gary always on the go, go, and Leslie quite content in just simply relaxing with book in hand.
“Our resort management teams in Aitutaki and Rarotonga have been working throughout the day to assist with this emergency in every way possible, co-ordinating with various authorities and agencies, and assisting Leslie and the couple’s friends.
“Leslie has now arrived safely in Rarotonga accompanied by the diving instructor who we understand is himself shaken.
“Our heart goes out to Leslie and her family in Canada and we will continue to assist throughout in every way we can.”
Leslie Donison told resort management yesterday: “Gary loved his diving”.
At Aitutaki’s Maina Traders Superstore, manager Marito Maoate said locals and visitors always came together to support each other when tragedies like these happened.
In September last year, a Taiwanese national Yang Wei-Chung, 47, who was kayaking in the lagoon at Aitutaki had drowned while trying to rescue his 11-year-old daughter who had fallen overboard a boat.
And in 2015, a 37-year old German tourist drowned in Aitutaki after being swept off the double kayak he was paddling with a friend.
Cook Islands Tourism offered its deepest condolences to family and friends affected by the untimely death. The organisation was working with authorities to assist where it could, said Karla Eggelton, director of sales.
* An earlier version of this article said Gary Donison drowned. However, a subsequent autopsy attributed his cause of death to asphyxiation caused by cardiac arrest.