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Auckland: Students Mourn Death of Drowned Classmate: What Went Wrong?


The students at Tuakau high school are mourning the death of their classmate who died in a drowning accident at a waterfall in the south of Auckland yesterday.

Thirteen-year-old, Lilatoni Vetemotu went with his family members to the popular Hunua  Falls. He got into trouble while swimming there. One of the family members tried to rescue him but failed in his attempt. Another teenager dived in to save Toni but “had to let go.”

Tuakua College paid tribute to Year 9 student Toni, whose body was recovered last night from the falls.  Members of the Police National Dive Squad recovered his body.

The school’s official Facebook page stated, “It is with the deepest sadness that we inform you of the passing of Toni Vetemotu, a Yr 9 student at Tuakau College. Toni is the 13-year-old who lost his life at the Hunua Falls over Easter.”

The post further stated, “We ask that everyone respect his family with privacy at this time. Students will be well supported at school in the coming days. Our guidance counsellor Paul Heta will be leading this support”.

The fatal accident which took Toni’s life came eight days after 17-year-old Peter Lakopo’s body was recovered from the same falls on March 20, reported stuff.co.nz.

Dr. Kevin Moran, a water safety Auckland expert, suggested for more water safety education in schools, especially for young males.

Moran said, “it’s a male disease… we know that 80 percent of drowning are male…they are over-confident and often over estimate their ability to swim in difficult waters.”

In 1997, an ad featured some celebrities jumping from the Hunua Falls. The then Water Safety Council executive director Alan Muir urged the company to remove the ad which according to him portrayed “unsafe practices.” Muir emphasised that the ad featuring celebrities leaping from a great height is unacceptable.

There are signs warning the risk and informs the swimmers that they can come across deep and shallow water and slippery rocks.

Moran also expressed his happiness at the warning signs placed at the reserve and told that the swimmers had been warned before they get into the water.

At least 17 people have died in the falls before and there are calls from the Auckland Council to make an effort to prevent further drowning, as reported by nzherald.co.nz.

Only precautions can help people avoid such tragic incidents. Heeding warnings and knowing one’s own strength are very important when it comes to swimming in unsafe places. During the Australia Day, the Royal Life Saving Society has issued a drowning risk warning, keeping in mind people’s safety.

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