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A man who died saving his young niece and two daughters from drowning at a South Taranaki beach yesterday has been named by police.
Kris Wichman, 36, was playing with young family members at the Patea River mouth on Friday afternoon when a ball was kicked across the river.
Mr Wichman, an experienced surfer and fisherman from Otaki Beach, swam to retrieve it.
But little did he know that his seven-year old niece and his two daughters , aged 10 and 11, had followed him.
They soon got into difficulties in the strong river current.
Mr Wichman grabbed his wee niece, and managed to usher his daughters back to the safety of shore.
But strong currents swept Mr Wichman and his niece 1.5 - 2km south towards the Whenuakura River.
The wee girl managed to swim ashore.
But an exhausted Mr Wichman has got into difficulty in the surf.
"Somehow he has ended up on the shoreline and the local volunteer fire brigade have located him," said incident controller Senior Sergeant Thomas McIntyre, who coordinated the rescue response.
"He's effectively saved her life and sacrificed his own life."
Mr Wichman was unresponsive and firefighters began CPR to try and revive him.
The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter then arrived on the scene and dropped off a paramedic to help with the revival efforts.
Pilot Mike Parker said he then continued a search of the beach and the surrounding water as there was still confusion over who was still missing.
"They were still worried about other people still being in the water," Mr Parker said.
Once it was confirmed that no-one else was left in the sea, the helicopter returned to the beach.
But by then, Mr Wichman has died.
The death was referred to the coroner who released Mr Wichman's body back to his grieving whanau this afternoon.
A St John spokesman said two young girls were taken to Taranaki Hospital's emergency department with minor to moderate injuries.
- By Kurt Bayer of NZME