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New Zealand student swept to her death by dam water seconds after posing for selfies in river

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 8/02/2017 Chloe Chaplain

© Provided by Independent Print Limited A student was swept away to her death by fast-flowing dam water moments after posing for selfies in a New Zealand river.

Rachael Louise De Jong was left stranded on a rock with three friends as water rose around them on the Waikato River.

The four women had reportedly been taking selfies as the warning siren went off, signalling the dam would be opened.

The group attempted to jump to safety from the small rock as fast-flowing water began to rise around them.

But 21-year-old student Miss De Jong was swept away in the rapids and drowned.

aratiatiarapids0802a.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited aratiatiarapids0802a.jpg Waikato River: The dam is opened several times each day

German tourists Katrin Taylor and Kevin Kiau were forced to watch helplessly as the ferocious water rose around the women.

They told news site stuff.nz that they were on a viewing platform when the siren went off and the water began to rise.

Ms Taylor said the water became “quite high” when they noticed four people “holding selfie sticks” on the other side of the river.

“We could see the water was rising further and that they were in danger of getting washed away,” she said.

Ms Tayor said the women tried to jump to a bigger rock where a man was waiting whilst the water rose above their feet.

"We saw the first girl made it. The guy pulled her in. The second girl jumped and made it safe as well.

"The third girl, she jumped but the water was washing her away so the guy grabbed her."

She said that they then saw the man and two of the girls being washed away – one of whom was Miss Louise De Jong whose body was recovered by police later in a rockpool.

"There was nothing we could have done. We could just stand there and watch helplessly and it was horrible,” Ms Taylor added.

Ms De Jong's, an Auckland University student, was described as the "most perfect sister" in a tribute posted online by her brother, Daniel. 

racheldejong0802b.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited racheldejong0802b.jpg Student: Rachael was swept to her death

"Yesterday I lost one of the most important people in my life, my wonderful sister," he wrote. "Not only was she an inspiration to us all, she was my best friend, and the most perfect sister I could ever have asked for.

"You never spoke a bad word of anyone, and you had such an infectious smile that could cheer anyone up. I love you so much Rachael, rest easy."

The Aratiatia Dam is opened by energy company Mercury Energy at multiple times each day. As well as the warning siren, there are signs around the river telling people not to swim.

CEO of Mercury Energy Fraser Whineray said that safety processes would be reviewed in light of the drowning.

"We are always looking for ways to improve safety to minimise the risks of it ever happening again," he said. "The challenge is to keep people out of that area at those times [when the water is released].

“Our sincere thoughts go out to the family and friends of the person who has passed and to those who are recovering at the local hospital and who will be traumatised.”

Ms De Jong's death has been referred to the coroner. 

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