Darren and Josh Southon were found by the police dive team on Saturday afternoon. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Tragedy at sea
Memorial service on Thursday

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

The search for a father and son who were reported missing while diving off the coast of Mataikona, north of Castlepoint, ended in tragedy after their bodies were recovered on Saturday afternoon.

Police divers found 48-year-old Masterton man Darren Southon and his 11-year-old son Josh shortly after 4.30pm near where they went missing.

Darren, a foreman at Tararua Builders and keen cyclist, was father to two, including Josh who was a pupil at Douglas Park School in Masterton.

A friend in the cycling community who had ridden with Darren several times a week for the past six years said they were devasted by the loss of Darren and his son.

“It’s very sad what happened, and we will miss him terribly. Our rides on the weekends will never be the same.”

He said Darren would be remembered for his ability to get along with everyone and for always smiling.

“He always loved the outdoors.”

Jorge Sandoval race director of the New Zealand Cycle Classic, said it would be difficult heading into the competition without Darren this year.

“It’s a big loss,” he said.

A memorial ride was already planned for today.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the community was feeling the loss.

“Darren was a hard-working family man, he worked in the trades and [was] involved in sport.”

The father and son were part of a family outing to the coast on Friday morning to look for paua.

A third man joined them in the water but soon exited after deciding the conditions were too rough.

In the time it took him to walk the 40 or 50 metres back to shore, the father and son had disappeared, prompting watching family to call police.

The two were wearing wetsuits but weren’t believed to be using flippers.

Search and rescue personnel, police, firefighters, and dozens of fishing vessels competing in the Castlepoint fishing competition, were among those involved in the search on Friday until it was called off several hours later because sea conditions turned bad.

The police dive squad was deployed on Saturday as was the Life Flight Westpac Rescue helicopter.

Pete Donaldson, of Wairarapa police, said the dive team got in the water at about 10.30am but found conditions were challenging.

“There was nil visibility and the water was really turbulent,” he said.

The team went in for a second dive around 12.30pm and found the two bodies on the sea floor later that afternoon

Police search and rescue controller Sergeant Tony Matheson said the family was “distraught”.

“There was a huge number of people gathered [on Friday and Saturday],” he said.

Before the bodies were found on Saturday, family members and friends sat on rocks exposed during low tide looking out to sea while others trawled along the coast.

A family member posted to the Times-Age website offering his thanks to the efforts undertaken to find the bodies.

“I would also like to thank Tangaroa for allowing us to have our babies back so soon and to limit my whanau and their friends from any further anguish,” he said.

“My whanau do not have to look out at the ocean now hoping and praying for a miracle.”

Matheson also thanked the community for their support in the search.

“The response the community gave in this event was just fantastic.”

He also cautioned people to be aware of the dangers posed, even in shallow areas.

“Every year in Wairarapa we have events like this, and one must show caution in the water.

“The Wairarapa coastline can be quite treacherous. People have to be very careful.”

A rahui is in place from the Whakataki River to Mataikona River stretching 12 nautical miles out to sea.

The deaths have been referred to the coroner.

A memorial service for both Darren and Josh will be held at 1pm on Thursday at the Wairarapa College Hall in Masterton.