Auckland friends say they tried to save one of three fishermen who died near Manukau Harbour bar

A group of west Auckland friends say they did everything they could to try and save the life of a fisherman who was one of three people killed near the Manukau Heads bar on Saturday.

Emergency services were called to the area at around 4:40pm after they were told a boat with four people on board had overturned. Four people were found in the water but three of them had died. Police say they were aged 54, 61, and 70 years old. 

The fourth person, 23, was flown to hospital and remains in a moderate condition in Auckland Hospital.

Friends Mark, Connor, and James had been out for their first fish since Auckland's alert level 3 rules had loosened. They had finished for the day and were back on the shore when they heard a boat was in trouble on the Manukau bar.

The trio rushed back out to try and help, crossing the bar in about 15 minutes. Mark was driving, and brothers James and Connor were watching for anyone in the water.

"Me and him were hanging off the side looking for people in the water," Connor says.

"[They were] directing me, just yelling at me, 'back, back, back'," Mark says.

They found a man face down in the water and life jackets were floating nearby.

"I tried to get him but couldn't get to him because waves were just pushing us back," Connor says.

They eventually pulled him up onto the boat and James and Connor started performing CPR while Mark sped back to the boat ramp in Huia.

"He was unresponsive and was just lying there foaming out the mouth," Connor says.

Connor says another member of the fishing group was pulled in by a different boat and also taken back to Huia.

Two other men were winched by helicopter, one who had already died and another who's now in a moderate condition in hospital.

Connor, James, and Mark.
Connor, James, and Mark. Photo credit: Newshub.

Huia local Ken Turner has had to bring dead bodies back into the bay himself after other people fell victim to the treacherous bar.

"It can be quite daunting the size of the waves if it's running against the tide."

He believes the Coastguard needs better funding to avoid time delays in emergencies.

"Like an ambulance at the rugby game on days like this when we knew it was going to be busy," he says.

"We should have people here on the bar standing by."

It's the fifth death on the Manukau Harbour in one week after a kayaker and a diver died last weekend.

It's been a really tough start to the boating season.

"They just wanted to go fishing. My heart goes out to these guys," Turner says.

"What do we do, we did our best to help out," Connor adds.