4 Feb 2018

Police name two teens who died in swollen stream

4:20 pm on 4 February 2018

Two teenagers who died after being swept away by a rain-swollen stream in the Waitakere Ranges have been named by police.

Emergency services at Waitakere golf course

Emergency services and search and rescue personnel at Waitakere golf course yesterday. Photo: RNZ/ Laura Tupou

A major search and rescue operation was launched yesterday evening when a group of five got into trouble trying to cross a stream near Cascade Falls in west Auckland.

Police said the two dead teenagers were Mitch Woolley and Sosi Turagaiviu, both from west Auckland.

They said all five of the group were 17 years old.

Two of those rescued have now been discharged from hospital. The fifth person was uninjured.

A deluge also forced evacuations due to flash flooding in nearby Piha.

Waitākere duty Inspector Fata Willi Fanene said the group were swimming near the falls when heavy rains began about 4.15pm, causing flash flooding.

The teenagers tried to get onto some rocks on one side of the stream but the water continued to rise and became very rough, he said.

Collapsed bridge en route to Cascade Falls (different angle)

Collapsed bridge en route to Cascade Falls. Photo: RNZ/ Laura Tupou

The group then tried to cross to the other side where their vehicle was parked.

Two of the teenagers made it onto the riverbank after getting into difficulty in the water, but three others in the group were swept away, Mr Fanene said.

One of the teenagers who made it to safety ran to the nearby golf course to call for help. He had mild hypothermia and was transported to Waitākere Hospital.

One of the three swept away managed to grab onto a tree on the bank, and was picked up by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter about 7.15pm and taken to hospital in a moderate condition.

Mr Turagaiviu's body was found by a member of the public, kilometres away under a bridge on Bethells Road, near Te Henga Road, just after 6.30pm.

Mr Woolley's body was found by search and rescue near where the group were swimming.

Mr Fanene said it was obvious the group was not prepared for the sudden change in weather conditions, and he could not comment on whether they had heard weather warnings.

He said it was concerning there were so many other groups out in the Waitākere Ranges given the weather forecast.

It was heartbreaking that rescue teams were not able to save the two men who died, he said.

The deaths have been referred to the Coroner.

Tracks Closed

The Auckland Council is urging people to stay away from the Waitākere Ranges after yesterday's flash flooding.

The council's western principal ranger Stephen Bell said a number of tracks had been closed until further notice.

"A significant amount of water came down the Cascade Stream yesterday, destroying the lower suspension bridge and damaging another bridge," he said.

"Due to the extent of the damage, and in the interests of public safety, we've closed the tracks at the Cascade Kauri end of the ranges, including tracks that lead into the area. Our park rangers have been out early this morning putting up closure signs and danger tape to alert the public to areas that are unsafe."

The Falls Road gate is now locked and areas that are closed to the public are:

  • Fence Line Track and access from the dam face of the Waitākere Dam Road Track
  • Smyth Ridge Track
  • Wainamu Bush Track from Smyth Ridge
  • Ridge Road Track
  • Long Road
  • Whatatiri Track from Long Road

The council was also reviewing the track network and infrastructure around Cascade kauri and Piha, which was also hit hard by heavy rain and high stream levels.

It said this could take some time and it wanted people to stay clear of the closed-off areas.

Local iwi have placed a rāhui on the Waitākere Ranges to try to stop the spread of kauri dieback disease.

The council had also closed a number of tracks, but stopped short of banning people from the area. The tracks that were previously closed as part of the kauri dieback management plan - Anderson Track, Wainamu Bush Track, Pukematekeo Track and West Tunnel Mouth Track - remain closed.