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Tragedy: Mother drowns trying to save daughter

Wednesday 4 January 2023 | Written by Cameron Scott | Published in Local, National

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Tragedy: Mother drowns trying to save daughter
A 52-year-old woman, holidaying from New Zealand with family, drowned after getting into difficulty while in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty on Monday. Picture: CAMERON SCOTT/23010204

A 52-year-old mother has drowned while trying to save her 11-year-old daughter who was being swept out by the current in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty.

The tragedy occurred on Monday afternoon. According to police spokesman Trevor Pitt, the woman, holidaying from New Zealand with family, got into difficulty while in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty. 

The seas on Monday were described as rough with a strong lagoon current.  The deceased had gotten into difficulty while attempting to help her 11-year-old daughter, who was being swept out by the current, Pitt said.

“Police had received a distress call at 2.24pm and local volunteers had been mobilised, including a neighbouring resident with a boat, and a dive boat. Several people were on hand to help, including Puaikura Fire and Police volunteers, and ambulance staff,” Pitt said.

“The woman was recovered from the oceanside just before 4pm, some distance to the south of the jetty after being swept out through the passage. 

Rescuers and volunteers packing to leave after retrieving the 52-year-old woman who drowned on Monday afternoon. Picture: CAMERON SCOTT/23010205
Rescuers and volunteers packing to leave after retrieving the 52-year-old woman who drowned on Monday afternoon. Picture: CAMERON SCOTT/23010205

“Police want to express appreciation for all the assistance from the Puaikura community and join them in extending sympathies to the family, and friends, affected by their sad loss.”

When Cook Islands News arrived on the scene, the volunteers involved in the retrieval were heading back to shore.

A witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I will never forget the wail of mourning from the boat when the family saw their mum.”

The newspaper understands the family arrived last month for an unveiling and were staying near Arorangi Primary School. They were booked to return to New Zealand later on Monday.

Harbour master John Jessie in an interview with Pacific Media Network said: “Some areas on the island have signs that have been put out, especially around Ava’avaroa and Arorangi jetty, to advice everybody that there are strong current that can take you out to sea.”

“If the weather is not favourable, please do observe that and don’t go out.”

The incident comes after a Cook Islands News article warning people especially expat Cook Islanders and tourists holidaying in Rarotonga to be extra-cautious of lagoon conditions when they’re swimming or using water craft.

Josh Utanga of Snorkel Cook Islands said his warning applied especially to visitors from New Zealand and Australia whose swimming skills are a bit rusty and who may have not had much – or any, experience of local conditions.

The passages at Ava’avaroa, Papua, Rutaki and Arorangi and the areas around them are hazardous places to swim, snorkel and kayak – and have claimed the lives of a number of tourists and locals over the years.

Maps of the island and prominent signs warn of the dangers, but are frequently ignored by beach-goers. The current at the passages can exceed 15kmh and, locals emphasise, can pull you under the water, as well as out to sea.

“There are some especially bad currents in those places. When the tide goes out, all that water from the lagoon has to go out to sea, and the currents are fierce,” Utanga told Cook Islands News last week.

 “If you do get stuck, don’t panic, swim parallel to the SHORE until you can put your feet down, then simply walk out.”

  • RK/CS