Witnesses to Opoutere swimming tragedy call for lifeguards to patrol beach as search continues for missing teen

The search continues for a teenage boy who went missing after a family of seven got into trouble swimming at Coromandel's Opoutere Beach this week. 

The beach, which backs onto a popular holiday camping ground, is not patrolled by lifeguards, but campers who witnessed Wednesday's tragedy are calling for that to change. One person died and multiple people were hospitalised after they got into trouble in the water.

Campers who raced to help wish more could've been done.

"I just regret not being a lifeguard. Lives would have been saved if we'd had a boat that could get out there," said Opoutere camper Joye Jones.

"It's just terrible feeling so helpless, even though I know we did what we could. Someone lost their dad, someone lost their son. A tragedy."

Although not a lifeguard, Jones is a nurse who gave CPR to those pulled from the water. She and her family who were camping there had been out swimming before the trouble began but returned to shore because it was so rough. 

"We noticed the group way out. We had been waist-deep. These people, you could literally only see their heads," Jones said.

Auckland teacher Amy Williamson was on the beach too and among those who raced to help before lifeguards arrived. 

"Their hands were up. There was seven in the water. We managed to get the mother in, then I got the daughter, put her in the recovery position," she said.

Six of the family, who come to Opoutere every year and rent a nearby beach house, were pulled from the surf. A teenage boy was revived but remains in a critical condition. Four of the others had moderate to minor injuries.  

Jones was in a group of campers who happened to be medical professionals. They tried to help the father of the family but he died at the scene. 

"It's not my first rodeo. As a nurse, I never actually thought he would make it. We flipped him, tried to get water out of his lungs, flipped him, tried CPR, but I think it was just too late," she said.

The search continues for one of the other children, who is a teenage boy. In the meantime, surf lifeguards are urging the public to swim at the patrolled beaches that sit north and south of Opoutere.

"We've got a big low sitting off the coast of New Zealand. Not normal for this beach, multiple rips and a lot of water moving around, really hazardous and not somewhere to be swimming," said Nathan Hight from Surf Lifesaving.

But calls have been growing for lifeguards at Opoutere for some time. 

"There needs to be a surf lifesaver down here, one or two, for the eight weeks of the holiday season," Williamson said. "There's one at Pauanui, there's one at Whangamatā, there's even one at Takapuna, but there's not one here."

They said if there had been a lifeguard there, it might've made all the difference.