17 already: Huge drowning toll is 'gut wrenching'


Almost a month into the year and already 17 people have drowned, seven more than the same time a year ago.

Craig Reid, 42, is the latest to have drowned, after getting into trouble while collecting shellfish off the coast of Bluff last night.

The search is continuing for Gisborne teenager John Wakelin, 18, who has been missing for two days and is presumed drowned. His brother Paul Wakelin, 23, drowned after to attempting to save John and a friend when they became caught in a rip off Maka-Rori beach.

Meanwhile, Waikato police have scaled back the search for a 22 year old man who slipped below the surface while trying to cross the Waikato river on Saturday night. He is presumed dead.

And police have named the woman who drowned in Lake Dunstan at Deadman's Point, Cromwell on Friday. She was I-Ching Cheng, a 26-year-old Taiwanese national.

Miss Cheng had been travelling on a working holiday throughout New Zealand with her sister for the past year.

Water Safety New Zealand CEO Matt Claridge says 17 deaths - 14 of whom are men - so far this year is a shocking start to the year.

"It's gut wrenching that there are so many families mourning the loss of a loved one to drowning and we are only three weeks into the year."

Mr Claridge says it will take all New Zealanders to stop and think about water safety if we are to stop the drownings and bring our horrific drowning toll down.

January 2011 was the last year the drowning toll reached 17.

Source: One News, TVNZ