Accident Database

Report ID# 4029

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

 Raglan kayaker Sean Gary Curtis, 20, drowns on West Coast river


March 3 2016

Companions pulled the 20-year-old kayaker unconscious from the Whitcombe River on the West Coast. A kayaker who died after getting into difficulty on a West Coast river was submerged for 20 minutes before his companions could get him out. Sean Gary Curtis, 20, was kayaking with a group on the Whitcombe River, south of Hokitika, when he got into difficulty in rapids in Colliers Gorge on Wednesday afternoon. His companions pulled him unconscious from the water. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Curtis was from Raglan. His parents Ken and Lesley own Four Square Raglan since 2014. The shop was shut Thursday morning. At the time of opening the store, his father Ken said they would be working together. "On a personal front my son, Sean, will also be joining me in running the store which I am really looking forward to. He has just finished his training at Pak'nSave Te Awamutu and becoming a part of the family business is something he is very excited about."

Curtis attended Te Awamutu College and spent time kayaking in Norway. Acting Senior Sergeant Paul Watson said those in the group were experienced whitewater kayakers and were well-equipped. He said conditions at the time were fine and the river was not high. He said Curtis and a friend had traveled down from the North Island to a kayaking festival in Murchison last week. "They met up with four others they knew from kayaking circles and made the decision to travel down together to another event in Queenstown this weekend.

The group then decided to stop off and kayak the Whitcombe River on the way down. It is probably one of the South Island's top kayaking rivers," he said. Curtis had come fourth in last year's Citroen extreme race, which is taking place again on the Kawarau River on Saturday. Watson said Curtis had about six years' kayaking experience. "For well-experienced kayakers it's ideal. Despite being young he was very proficient. They were well-equipped and well experienced. They certainly impressed me with their maturity and respect for the river environment they were in," he said. The group was being led by a kayaker who had kayaked the Whitcombe river several times recently. "He knew the area quite well and led the group down through the more challenging areas.

The deceased drifted off line and got himself into difficulty. He was submerged and it took them 20 minutes to get him out of the water," he said. The group activated emergency locator beacons and performed CPR until the West Coast Rescue helicopter arrived. Curtis's friend Gea Gabriella posted a tribute on Facebook describing him as "the most energetic, action packed, amazing person"

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