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Bay of Plenty, New Zealand day Reon Wikeepa give life to save daughter

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A New Zealand father who died in a water tragedy gave up his life to save his daughter, using his last ounce of strength to hold her head above the surface and lift her onto rocks.

Reon Wikeepa’s grieving whānau (family) are paying tribute to his courage. They say the strong swimmer and devoted dad didn’t die because he was out of his depth but sacrificed himself for the love of his family.

Wikeepa, 43, was pulled unresponsive from the waves by surf lifesavers on Saturday. Rescuers performed CPR but he could not be revived.

The machine operator had been enjoying the water at Moturiki Island with his 16-year-old daughter, 14-year-old son and several nephews when things went wrong.

A statement from Wikeepa’s family says his daughter had jumped into the sea when the conditions changed and she was caught in a rip.

“He noticed that she was struggling and jumped in straight away, no second thought, and got her out of the rip by being under her to lift her out.

He gave all his strength and energy in a sacrifice to save her.

“The family tried everything to help him out but the rip was too much and he went under.”

Wikeepa’s son risked his own life in a bid to save his father, jumping into the water and holding Wikeepa up above the surface before pushing him onto a surf lifesaving boat.

“He is a hero like his father. It is a story of love of a whānau who would give everything for each other, including their lives.”

The family stressed that Wikeepa would have made the same decision to attempt a rescue, even if it had not been his family.

The body of the former Tauranga Boys College student and first XV player has been released by the Coroner and was yesterday resting at the Ohauiti home of his parents Linda and Ricki, which was overflowing with family and friends.

Following his tangi, he will be buried next to his sister on ancestral land at Motiti Island.

“He is terribly missed by his mum, dad, sister and multitude of nieces, nephews and cuzzies,” the family said.

It’s understood Wikeepa had spent some time living in Australia before returning to the Bay of Plenty for work.

His sister Nikki Tuhakaraina posted a tribute to her brother yesterday.

“It is with a shattered heart that I announce the tragic and sudden death of my Brother and Rock of our whānau, Reon Wikeepa.”

She said Wikeepa was being brought home to their parents’ for two nights.

“Then we will take him back home to Motiti Island for this final night at our Marae.”

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service chairman Jamie Troughton said conditions were tricky on Saturday, with a 1.5m swell and lots of water moving through the area following a storm the previous night.

Wikeepa’s death was a tragic start to the summer patrolling season and the incident had a big impact on club members, Troughton said.

“Unfortunately this all unfolded outside our patrolling area and out of sight, on the other side of Moturiki Island, but we got there as soon as we could, both with lifeguards on foot and with an IRB out through some challenging conditions.

“Our IRB crew picked the patient up out of the water and got them back to the beach as fast as possible and we were able to start resuscitation efforts straight away, alongside other emergency services.”

The tragedy had shaken the club’s lifeguards, especially those who comforted and supported Wikeepa’s whanau during resuscitation efforts.

“It was a really raw, heartbreaking situation and it was impossible not to feel the grief and loss, but I’m proud of the professional way our team handled the situation and looked out for each other. Our hearts go out to the whānau.”

The club was now focused on supporting its lifeguards.

This article originally appeared in and was reproduced with permission.

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