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Warning signs needed at deadly spot

By Beckie Wilson and Jake Beleski

Calls are being made for better signage at a notorious stretch of water near Lake Ferry after the latest death of a fisherman.

But the deputy mayor of South Wairarapa says that while he agrees, any new warning signs may prove a waste of time for those determined to fish there.

Bennie Hombrebueno. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Bennie Hombrebueno. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

The body of Bennie Palay Hombrebueno was found at about 11pm on Monday night near the mouth of Lake Onoke.

The 34-year-old Filipino beekeeper had been fishing with his twin brother at about 2.30pm when he was swept out to sea while trying to cross the channel.

Witnesses say the men had dug open the channel – which had been closed for several days due to sand build-up at the mouth of the lake.

Wairarapa Filipino Society spokesman Ryan Soriano said yesterday he was with the family of Mr Hombrebueno, who was also a member of the society.

The society was supporting the family, who needed time to grieve.

A Lake Ferry resident who has lived at the beach for about 20 years, and is a regular fisherman, said the residents were very concerned about safety at the beach, and had tried to improve it.

“There’s so many people that come to visit, that don’t understand the dangers,” said the man, who did not want to be named.

“If there were [signs] where people park, and another one maybe further down [the beach], and definitely one closer to the mouth,” he said.

“To put them in would be fabulous and we’d just hope that people take notice of them.”

He said he went fishing often there, but knew the dangers.

“Right at the mouth is very dangerous, because that water goes through there so fast you don’t have a chance in that outgoing tide, and it’s fierce, and people don’t really understand.”

Sometimes when he was fishing he saw families with small children paddling in the waves.

“If they get caught in a wave up to their knees, they could get swept out just like that, it’s really powerful.”

South Wairarapa Deputy Mayor Brian Jephson has been a resident near Lake Ferry, on Palliser Bay Station, for about 40 years.

He said that over that time there had been at least half a dozen deaths.

He had met with the Lake Ferry Residents and Ratepayers Association late last year to discuss signage and better education about the beach’s dangers.

“It was left for them to decide what they wanted, and to be fair to them it is probably still in the planning stage, and this has happened before they got something out,” he said.

“I think the residents need a tick for [their initiative] as they see a lot of people doing stupid things when they shouldn’t. And they are the ones who are front-footing it.”

Signage on the beach was needed, but it could not be predicted where people would fish.

“No matter how much signage you have there, if people can’t read the conditions, I don’t think a sign will help them because they’re obviously hell-bent on going out there fishing.

“Short of having someone running up and down the beach on a motorbike telling people to get out of the water, you only have to look at Piha Rescue on TV, it’s a great example, they have all the signage and people just ignore it.

“People just have to take responsibility themselves, it’s absolutely tragic for the family and people that live there, because no one wants to see someone die.”

He said the council would pay for the signs.


‘Big boiling mess of water’

For those called in to help search for the missing man, the area is well known for its rough, dangerous conditions – especially at the Gap.

Both Life Flight and Amalgamated Helicopters were called around 3pm on Monday afternoon, and were searching until police called off the search at about 6.30pm.

Jason Diedrichs from Amalgamated Helicopters said there were 2-3m swells and a southerly, but if the fisherman had been above the water line, he would have seen him.

“I would say it was fairly rough where Lake Onoke drains through the bar and into the sea,” Mr Diedrichs said.

“It was a big boiling mess of water.”

The river flow was meeting with the southerly swell and it was turbulent around the mouth area, he said.

Mr Diedrichs said he had been called to search the area before and it was known for similar incidents in the past.

Life Flight crewman Julian Burn, who helped in the search, said in the past they had been called to help search for boaties, not fisherman.

“It’s a shocking stretch of water where the lake meets the ocean,” he said.

“Local knowledge is important in an area like that – I’m not sure if the people yesterday had any knowledge but it definitely helps in an area like that.”
The weather conditions were good in the air for the search, but conditions at ground level were tough, he said.


Coroner calls for jetski

Retired market gardener Les Wong, 71, died in August 2015 after being hit by a series of 3m high waves that knocked him over and dragged him across the sandbar.

The Greytown resident was scooping for bait at the mouth of Lake Onoke in knee deep water at the time.

In April 2016 Coroner Christopher Devonport found that Mr Wong drowned despite commendable attempts by David Buick, Trevor Shirkey and others to rescue him.

The men ran to rescue Mr Wong, initially trying to reach him with a log, before Mr Buick stripped, put on a lifejacket, and holding a rope tried to swim out to Mr Wong while Mr Shirkey held the other end of the rope on the beach.

A reel/winch was brought to the scene and the reel’s rope was attached to the rope being ferried out to Mr Wong.

In evidence Mr Buick said Mr Wong was slipping down in his lifejacket, his face getting covered in water.

Eventually the two men were brought ashore and rescuers, including a police officer, started CPR.

The coroner, who had consulted a lifesaving expert, said he recommended the reel should not be used as a surf lifesaving device at Lake Ferry “as that device should be properly maintained and only used by trained teams of lifesavers”.

Instead, a jetski or an inflatable rescue boat “may be more appropriate” for Lake Ferry and similar areas but that was dependent upon availability, trained operators and sea conditions.

Perry Cameron, past president of Lake Ferry Ratepayers and Residents Association, said they had a meeting with Surf Life Saving New Zealand about the lack of gear at the beach.

“We used to have search and rescue equipment but it was never replaced… it may have been vandalised years ago,” he said.

“It would have just been a ring and in certain circumstances it was possible to use that.”

They were told that people needed to be trained to use the equipment but Mr Cameron said that was not necessarily true.

If the gear was available, and someone on the beach was confident enough to use it, then that could help save a life, he said.



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