Man dies in lake after rescuing little girl

THE girlfriend of a 19-year-old man who drowned in an Otago lake on Saturday has criticised the lack of signage on the shore about how the lake floor drops away dramatically.

Police have not named the man, at the family's request.

His girlfriend, Courtney Shaw, paid tribute to him yesterday, saying he had saved a girl's life by using "all his strength, holding her above his head to keep her safe''.

But Shaw was upset her partner's life may have been saved had there been signs on the Lake Dunstan waterfront, warning of the dangers.

"There is no sign posting at the lake to say the ground levels drop dramatically, not far from shore.

"[Swimmers]would not have gone in if there were warning signs.

"Because of the no signage, I have lost the person I was going to grow old with.

"[He] was a very loving, fun guy who cared a lot for the people in his life, and will be dearly missed by everybody.''

Cromwell man Rob Horne and his partner, Amber McMillan, pulled a 6-year-old girl and her mother from the inlet in the Kawarau arm of Lake Dunstan, near Bannockburn.

But the couple knew it was too late to rescue the 19-year-old man, whose body was recovered by Horne from the popular swimming and boating area.

Horne said he was driving to the Carrick Winery with friends for lunch about 1pm on Saturday when a woman jumped in front of the car and flagged them down.

Emergency services are called to Lake Dunstan as one person swims to shore. A body has also been foundVideo

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"She was saying 'Someone's drowning, there's a kid in there that's drowning'.

"Me and my girlfriend Amber just jumped out of the car and ran flat out. I chucked my shirt off, threw my boots off, jumped into the water.''

A woman was struggling with a girl over her shoulder less than 10m from the shore.

"I grabbed her and Amber grabbed the little girl and we swam backwards.

"I'd say another 10 or so seconds and she would have drowned. It was deep. As I grabbed her, her nose just went under.''

As they reached the shore a man was yelling, "My son, my son,'' Horne said.

He said others on the shore noticed a body which was floating but then sank under the water. He and McMillan swam for about 20 minutes trying to find the man, but visibility was poor, and they could only see about a metre in front of their faces.

Pumped with adrenaline, he said he could hold his breath for only 10 seconds at a time.

Horne, who is an experienced diver, got a friend to drive to his house nearby and get his gear.

Horne searched the water with his diving gear for about 10 minutes before finding the body, which was at a depth of nearly 5m.

He knew the man would be dead, he said.

"I just wanted to find him for the family.'''

When he came to shore with the body, emergency services had arrived.

He had since seen the man's family, who were very upset, he said.

One of the people travelling with Horne was Alexandra builder Geoff McHardy, who had only met him that day.

He alerted emergency services.

"Apparently, before that, the wee girl had got out of her depth and the 19-year-old man had gone in to get her.''

The young girl pulled from the water appeared unharmed and another woman took her and another child who was with them back home, while the search continued for the missing man, he said.

"It was all very sad, but Rob, he deserves a medal for what he did in making sure the wee girl was safe, and then the efforts he went to to retrieve the body of the man.''

A spokeswoman said Victim Support was offered to those involved in the incident.

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