'Complacent' council slammed over safety at Northland beach after dad drowns trying to save kids

A coroner says she's "dissatisfied" by the complacent approach of the Far North District Council to ensuring beach safety after a dad drowned trying to save his kids over three years ago.

Map showing Cable Bay. Source: 1 NEWS

On January 2, 2018, Wairongoa Clarence Renata of Palmerston North was pulled from the water at Cable Bay Beach, Northland.

He was not known as a strong swimmer, but went into the water after his three children became stuck in a rip.

At least half a dozen members of the public also entered the water and swam out to save the children around 4pm.

However, Renata also came into trouble on the water about 75 metres from shore. He was heard calling for help with a "desperate sound".

A short time later he was found foaming at the mouth and unconscious.

After he was pulled from the water, waiting ambulance staff and an off-duty paramedic tried to resuscitate him to no avail.

He was 54.

Pathologist Dr Barbora Skopalikova confirmed he died by drowning, and toxicology testing found no drugs or alcohol were detected in his system.

Renata's 11-year-old daughter, who was vomiting and semi-conscious when she was rescued, was flown to Whangārei Hospital in a serious condition. She has since recovered.

Two younger boys were in a better condition and were able to speak to rescuers after the ordeal.

In Coroner Mary-Anne Borrowdale's report today, it noted the Far North District Council has been contacted, but that it remains the case today that no water safety signage is in place at Cable Bay.

The council responded saying, "signage advising of rips were installed many years ago at Cable Bay Beach Reserve, but were removed for reasons unknown and not replaced".

According to Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, the beach is deceptively safe-looking, but in fact contains life-threatening hazards that are hard for people to detect.

"I am dissatisfied with the complacent approach taken by the Far North District Council to ensuring the mitigation of beach hazards in this region," Borrowdale said.

"In the first instance, the council has not installed any safety devices itself. It has been content to rely on the work done by Operation Flotation."

The water safety group, which was set up within two months of Renata's death, sourced devices for the beach through Aqua Safe NZ Ltd.

"Secondly, the council has not installed any signage at Cable Bay advising of the known beach hazards. It is to my mind wholly unsatisfactory that there remain no water safety warning signs at the approaches to Cable Bay beach," Borrowdale continued.

"Thirdly, given that the internet is a primary resource for travellers who seek outdoor activities, it is unacceptable that the internet resources pertaining to this popular beach region contain no water safety warnings for Cable Bay, and no safety advice to beach users.

"Ideally, such warning information should also be available in printed leaflets and other material; but I am less concerned about this, given that the internet is now so heavily used for travel and outdoors information."

Renata’s is not the only drowning at Cable Bay. So far this century, three other men have drowned at the beach, in 2001 and 2015, all of which were Maori men residing in Northland, and aged between 25 and 59.