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Piha Tragedies Claim Three Lives On Long Weekend

by Selwyn Manning

Two fathers drowned trying to rescue their daughters from pounding surf at west Auckland's Piha yesterday. And on Saturday a fisherman was swept off rocks to his death.

Peter Graham Mavakla (42) and Michael Valcarel (40) entered the Piha surf yesterday attempting to rescue their daughters who were caught in a rip after being dragged out to sea on bodyboards.

The fathers were overcome by a vicious rip and pounding surf. The tragedy occurred a around 4.20pm yesterday.

Other bodyboarders helped to drag them to shore. But when lifeguards or ambulance officers arrived they were already dead.

The girls, who were aged 11 and 12 years of age, made it safely to shore.

The New Zealand Herald this morning reported Bodyboarding friends Douglas Brown, 20, and Brandon Henshall, 21, both of Swanson, swam to the aid of two people they saw in trouble. Mr Brown said he grabbed a man and pulled him to shore. That man survived. Mr Brown then paddled back out to try to find one of the other men but could not see him. Mr Henshall said the man he grabbed was already dead. He pulled the body over the front of his board and rode waves towards the shore.

Just as he was reaching shore, he was swamped by a large wave and the body was lost in the surf for several minutes.

The Mavakla and Valcarel families arrived in New Zealand about two months ago from South Africa and both now live in Papakura, south of Auckland.

Piha attracted thousands of visitors on the weekend. Its surf was up, and beachgoers enjoyed perfect Labour Day weather.

The two fathers drowned in an area known as Monkey Rock, at the northern end of Piha. The area was outside of the flagged area and is considered one of Piha's most dangerous spots.

Surf Lifesaving's northern region president, Tim Jago, said last night the deaths were preventable. Going into big surf, on an outgoing tide, with a setting sun was a recipe for disaster, he said.

On Saturday Piha surf also claimed the life of a 49-year-old fisherman. He was swept to his death from rocks at the southern end of the beach.

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