18 Oct 2017

Cooks MP saves three children from drowning

8:29 am on 18 October 2017

A Cook Islands MP has helped save the lives of three children on holiday from New Zealand who were swept away while swimming at a popular jetty on the island of Rarotonga.

Cook Islands MP Tamaiva Tuavera points to where he rescued the three girls

Cook Islands MP Tamaiva Tuavera points to where he rescued the three girls Photo: RNZI/Florence Syme Buchanan

Tamaiva Tuavera said his New Zealand Army training kicked in when he too found himself out of his depth as the children clung to him in the swift current.

Mr Tuavera said he had gone back to the jetty to gut some fish he had caught when he saw the three girls in trouble about 30 metres away.

He said he did not have time to take his shoes off.

"I just ran and dived in the water and swam out to them, thinking that because I'd been in the water there before, I could stand.

"I thought, yeh I'll go there, I'll save them and, hullo, by the time I got there, there was two of them under water.

"The oldest one was still bobbing up and down so I grabbed them by their hair and pulled them up and then I realised that I can't stand up."

Mr Tuavera, known as Tama, said he had one child in each hand and the other holding him from behind.

He found himself just able to stand in one spot on tiptoe without disappearing under the water.

"My nose was the only thing that was sticking out of the water."

Mr Tuavera said when he stepped one way or the other and went under, panic took hold.

"One of them said, 'oh uncle, I can't breathe'. I said 'yes you can because you're talking to me'. I said 'when you talk you're breathing, so keep talking and if you want to cry and scream do it.'"

He said he stood with the girls clinging to him for about a minute and a half before a tourist came along and swam out taking the children one by one back to the pier.

Traditional vessel at anchor in the channel leading to Rarotonga's Muri lagoon, Cook Islands

Warning signs are being urged for the Avana passage on Rarotonga Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

"To think that we could have lost three little lives that day," said the MP, who credited his training as a corporal in New Zealand for saving their lives.

"You don't panic. You think and you deal with it. We've always said assess the situation and then deal with it. Don't panic."

Mr Tuavera wants to see warning signs put up at the pier about the dangers of swimming at a high tide.

"Don't just let your kids come down here and swim because that's what's been happening.

"With Christmas coming up it'll be hot again and that place will be packed with kids every day and you hardly see any adults there," he said.

Mr Tuavera who was on his way home to gut his fish said it was lucky he had changed his plan and went to the pier.

"I feel I was supposed to be there that day."