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Five drownings over Waitangi weekend

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/02/2017

A woman found dead after being swept down the Waikato River was the fifth person over the weekend to die in New Zealand waters, prompting warnings a cultural change is still needed around water safety.

The woman, believed to be from Auckland, was one of four friends in their 20s swept away when a floodgate at the Aratiatia Dam opened while they were swimming at noon on Monday.

The others managed to get to safety but the woman's body was later found downstream.

There were warning signs advising against swimming in the area and police say a warning siren had gone off.

The woman was the 18th person to die in the water this year - two more than at the same time last year - and the eighth in the last week.

Water Safety New Zealand chief Jonty Mills says the deaths reflects a broad range of dangers on a busy weekend.

"It reflects the real complex nature of the drowning problem in New Zealand. It reflects a broad range of activities, and environment and ages and ethnicities and activities," he told Radio NZ.

"This weekend, particularly there was sense of frustration, given the inclement weather we've had over parts of the country - people were pretty anxious to get back into the water."

He said while research suggested messages about water safety were getting through, attitudes still needed to change.

"I liken it to the wearing of seat belts of drink driving. We actually need a cultural change in this country around water."

The four other weekend deaths included a diver who collapsed following a dive attempt north of Tolaga Bay on the East Coast, a 21-month old boy who drowned at a pool in Makarau, north of Auckland, a 70-year-old woman washed away by a rogue wave on the West Coast and a man who died in hospital after being pulled from Wellington Harbour.

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