Search continues for missing swimmers at two south Auckland waterfalls

2019-01-21 02:51:37

Two people have died while swimming in south Auckland waterfalls over the weekend.

Both went swimming on Sunday but failed to surface – one at the Maketu Falls near Pukekohe and the other at the Hunua Falls, in the Hunua ranges.

Police dive squads recovered the bodies from the waters below both falls on Monday, as grieving families watched on.

Police said they battled with low visibility, submerged obstacles and rocky surroundings during the searches at both sites.


Eddie Proosten went for a swim at Maketu Falls, a swimming hole near Ramarama, after lunch on Sunday.

His brother, Shane Proosten, said ​he failed to resurface and emergency services were called at 4.50pm.

Proosten said he and his family waited at the falls until 1am on Monday, thinking his brother would be pulled out of the water.

They were back there by 8am on Monday.

"It's just upsetting for us because we thought we were going to get him out last night."

Police confirmed they had found the body of a 50-year-old man on Monday morning and said the death had been referred to the coroner.

Speaking before the discovery, Proosten said: "We have lost a brother, father and uncle."

"It was just a genuine mistake, an accident."


Another man failed to surface after swimming at a waterfall in the Hunua Ranges and was reported missing at 2.40pm on Sunday.

Access to Hunua Falls was closed on Sunday as police, Fire and Emergency NZ, St John Ambulance, the police Eagle helicopter, Land Search and Rescue attended the incident.

Efforts to find the man on Sunday failed.

Friends of the man gathered at the falls car park at around 11am on Monday.

They sat in a circle on the grass area, waiting for the police dive squad to arrive. When they arrived, three of the men accompanied police to the site, while the others stayed behind the police cordon.

Just after 1pm a hearse arrived and a purple covered casket was wheeled over the bridge and down the walking track.

The body of a 20-year-old man was pulled from the water.  The friends walked alongside the casket and lifted it into the back of the hearse.

Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, head of the national police dive squad, said Hunua Falls drops down to 20m in depth and described the water as very murky with no visibility under the water.

He said they did try to find the man last night but were limited by the water's depth and time.

"We came here but exhausted all time available." He said he didn't know what had happened in the Hunua case but said they were just some young guys doing what people do on a hot, summer's day.

A local man said the falls were an incredibly popular tourist destination.

On a recent visit he had been surprised to see people wearing saris, jeans and shirts while swimming in the water.


Adams said he felt for the two families of the two tragedies that happened so close to one another.

"It's certainly unusual that they've been in roughly the same area, at different locations.

"Obviously for the team it puts the pressure on to get the results as quickly as we can.

"We're were lucky to have the support of witnesses who were there at the time, that were able to give us the best positions to start from."

He said he didn't know what caused both incidents but it was a good reminder to be safe around the water.


In 2016, two teenagers died within eight days of one another at Hunua Falls.

Lilatoni "Toni" Vetemotu, 13, was swimming with his family at the falls when he slipped into deep waters and drowned.

Vetemotu's death came eight days after 17-year-old Peter Iakopo Lemalu's body was recovered by police from the same water hole.

In 2013, a 20-year-old man lost his footing at the top of the falls and slipped. Before that, father of two, 46-year-old Craig Carter was killed after jumping off the top of the falls in 2009.

In 2008, park ranger Tony Oliver said 14 people had died from jumping from the top of the waterfall, many others had also been injured.

Senior Sergeant John Yearbury told Stuff in 2016 there were "buoyancy devices surrounding this swimming hole but there are no lifeguards".


Even though the top of the Hunua Falls is restricted, visitors still access the top of the falls.

Hazards at the falls include sudden drop-offs into deep water beneath the falls and a lack of buoyancy associated with fresh water and aerated water at the base of the falls.

There are slippery rocks crossing the mouth of the Wairoa River at the outflow of the water hole, while discoloured water makes it difficult to identify submerged objects, including logs and rocks.

Water levels at the falls can increase dramatically during heavy rainfall.


Earlier this month, a woman in her 20s sustained multiple injuries after falling down Maketu Falls.

The woman was winched out of a pool after falling down the waterfall on January 6 by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

A spokesman for the helicopter service said she was "extracted by winch" and taken to Middlemore Hospital in a moderate condition.

Maketu Falls is eight metres high and flows rapidly in stages down a steep channel in a rock face.

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