22 Nov 2018

Young Otago man drowned after entering river with a child

7:48 pm on 22 November 2018

A 19-year-old Otago man sacrificed his own life to save his niece from drowning.

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A 19-year-old man could only stay afloat in the Bannockburn Inlet, in the Kawarau River (pictured), long enough to pass his niece to another family member. Photo: innzexuk/123RF

A coroners report out today said in the summer of 2016, Ben Gardner was walking through the water to a pontoon in the Bannockburn Inlet in the Kawarau River, near Cromwell, with his five-year-old niece on his back.

Mr Gardner was described as a strong and active swimmer, but after reaching a steep drop-off on the way to the pontoon, he became caught in weeds.

The coroner reported he stayed afloat long enough to pass his niece to another family member, but had expended so much energy keeping her above the water that he was unable to support himself.

Coroner Marcus Elliott recommended placing warning signs at the river, highlighting the risks associated with swimming there.

"The presence of the pontoon implied that it was suitable to swim in the area, but there was no signage to remind people of the risks, and no warning that the water was too deep to reach the pontoon on foot or that weeds were growing in the area," Mr Elliot said in his report.

"Mr Gardner's death highlights the importance of being vigilant about the dangers of swimming, especially in unfamiliar waters."

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