The Dominion Post

Boys played games in waves before tragedy

- Marty Sharpe

A 7-year-old boy who drowned in the sea off Napier may have been playing a game against crashing waves before they washed him away.

Te Ao Marama Te Pou (known as ‘Marama’) was playing in the shallows at the southern end of Marine Parade with his twin brother Whetu and another friend when he was swept away on the afternoon of February 21 last year.

In a recently released finding, coroner Peter Ryan said the boys had been playing in the water without any adult supervisio­n. There was a ‘‘significan­t amount of surf and a strong undertow’’ and Marama was swept away, he said.

People on the beach called emergency services and two police officers swam beyond the breakers to rescue Marama, but by the time they reached him he was not breathing. Constables Ryan Gordon and Larissa Cowlrick attempted to resuscitat­e the boy before a rescue helicopter plucked all three of them from the sea and deposited them on shore. Marama could not be revived. The coroner said the officers’ actions were heroic. ‘‘They placed their own lives at risk in an effort to save another . . . the actions of these two police officers deserve the highest commendati­on.’’ The coroner said Marama and Whetu would often go to friends’ houses after school.

A parent of one of these friends told the coroner the twins were at her house nearly every day after school and would return home before the sun went down. The twins’ mother, Liana Te Pou, told police she thought they were at another friend’s house and that the friend’s father was looking after them. But the father told police the twins had not been there.

Two women sunbathing at the beach reported seeing a group of children playing in the shallows. One of the women went to the water to cool her legs and noticed a very strong undertow. She saw the children running up to the waves, jumping up and landing on their bottoms. When sitting the water was up to their chests, she said.

A short time later the women noticed a commotion on the beach. They saw three men trying to get into the water to retrieve a child who was 5-10 metres from the shore. They could not reach him.

One of the women called police. When officers Gordon and

Cowlrick arrived they saw Marama lying face down in the water about 200m from shore. They stripped off their police kit and swam to the boy.

The sea was too rough for them to swim Marama ashore, so they attempted to resuscitat­e him in the water. They did this until a rescue helicopter arrived about half an hour later. No autopsy was performed on Marama due to an objection by his family. His death was recorded as a presumed drowning based on the evidence.

Liana Te Pou declined to provide a statement to police. An officer who had a conversati­on with her on the day of the drowning said she believed the twins were in the care of a friend’s father, and she said they knew not to go to Marine Parade alone.

The coroner noted that police believed the boys had likely headed to the beach without informing any adults.

The coroner said Marama’s death was preventabl­e and would likely not have occurred if there had been adult supervisio­n. ‘‘This is such an obvious and wellrecogn­ised factor in the circumstan­ces of this death that making further comments or recommenda­tions would serve no useful purpose,’’ Ryan said.

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