A teenager drowned swimming across an artificial lake after
seeing his mates having fun on the other side.
The death of Tominiko Junior Pelenato, a sports mad
16-year-old known to all as TJ, has prompted a coroner to
raise questions about appropriate signage for inexperienced
swimmers attempting to cross wide waterways.
TJ could not be saved by his friends, slipping from their
grasp and drifting to the bottom of Pegasus Lake in
Canterbury on December 15, 2012.
The keen rugby, basketball and volleyball player, who had
just completed Year 11 at Catholic Cathedral College in
central Christchurch, was on a church group outing to the
recreational lake in the newly-built township of Pegasus.
TJ and four young mates decided to swim from one of the 13ha
lake's 11 beaches beside a waterfall to where others were
playing at some wooden piles protruding from the water some
About 40m from the beach, TJ, who lived with his family in
the suburb of Linwood, got into difficulties.
In a statement of evidence to an inquest before Coroner
Richard McElrea in Christchurch yesterday, Rangiora police
Constable Paul Robertson described what witnesses saw.
"Tominiko called for help and flapped his arms, struggling to
stay above the water," he said.
"One of the boys, Lvi Ahtong, went to assist Tominiko.
However, Tominiko struggled and pulled the pair underwater.
"Lvi let go of Tominiko and another friend, Jordan
Topai-Aveai, tried to hold Tominiko out of the water.
"By now, Tominiko was unresponsive and slipped out of
Jordan's grasp and disappeared below the water."
Members of the public joined the search by free-diving to the
sandy bottom of the lake.
About 20 minutes later, one of them, Paul Skerten, found TJ
lying on the lake bed.
He was rushed to land by boat but could not be revived.
At the inquest, Paul Armstrong, development manager for Toddy
Property Group, which acquired assets of Pegasus Town Ltd,
including the lake, on December 3, 2012, gave evidence.
He expressed his condolences to TJ's friends and family for
the "terrible tragedy".
The artificial lake, up to 6m deep in the middle, was
developed as a public asset, with Waimakariri District
Council due to take over ownership and management later this
Its former owners looked at a range of safety options when
designing it, consultating the local council, police, and the
Royal Life Saving Society.
Given its size, lifeguards were deemed impractical and
buoyancy aids were discounted over maintenance issues.
Widespread signage was deemed the most practical and
There were 22 caution and no jumping signs when Todd Property
Group took ownership. It then put up another 20.
The area was "very heavily signed" that day, Mr Armstrong
"Clearly the young man swam beyond his experience and
underestimated what was involved," Coroner McElrea said.
He adjourned the hearing and will later give written
"As I have indicated, the one area I may be particularly
looking at is ... the importance of only experienced swimmers
attempting what TJ did on that day."
The Pelenato family told the inquest that TJ went swimming
with his sister every weekend and had taken formal lessons at
Asked by the coroner if, on December 15, 2012, TJ had simply
wanted to be part of what other kids were doing, one family
member replied: "I would say he saw the boys having fun on
the other side and would've wanted to join in."