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Coroner’s finding on the death of Patricia Valenzuela Ofrasio

Posted by SC Comments Off on Coroner’s finding on the death of Patricia Valenzuela Ofrasio

Patricia Ofrasio, 21, drowned at Mercer Bay on 3 February 2011. Patricia with four friends from the university went for a planned hike to Mercer Bay. They were all hot after going down the cliff so decided to swim. They all got into the water even though Patricia could not swim.

The others moved, or were taken further out by the current and then noticed that Patricia, closer to the shore, was struggling. She got caught in a set of big waves and pulled further out. She raised her arm to indicate she was in trouble.

Three of the men swam to her aid. One managed to grab hold of her but had to let go when he was pulled under the water. They were all pulled further out and lost sight of Patricia. The men managed to pull themselves onto the rocks and then saw Patricia face down and not moving in the water.

They pulled her into the shore and commenced CPR. Two members climbed out of the bay to get cellphone coverage and ring for help. An IRB arrived from Piha surf club within a short time of the alarm being raised and carried out CPR. The Westpac Helicopter arrived but Patricia was pronounced dead.

Richard Hollier for Auckland Council regional parks, explained to the hearing that there is no marked access to Mercer Bay and there are warning signs at the Te Ahuahu Road carpark about unstable cliff edges. Surf Life Saving NZ Northern Region said the beach posed significant risks to swimmers because of strong currents and large waves. The emergency call was delayed because there was no cellphone coverage at the foot of Mercer Bay but once the call was received the response met best practice.

The coroner, Katharine Greig, found that the death was caused by accidental drowning. She stated that the group did not appreciate the risks and that the plan for the non-swimming Patricia to stay in the shallows reflected the lack of understanding of group members of the hazards at the beach.

She recommended that the Chief Executive of Auckland Council consider:

  • whether to erect signs at the start of the Mercer Bay Loop Track and Comans Track advising that there is no access to Mercer Bay
  • whether to erect signs at the start of the informal access to Mercer Bay warning of the dangers
  • whether to erect signs at Mercer Bay warning of the hazards for swimmers.
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