Man killed near beach was dad and teacher

Leslie Gelberger who was killed while swimming in Auckland Harbour. Photo: NZ Herald / Supplied
Leslie Gelberger who was killed while swimming in Auckland Harbour. Photo: NZ Herald / Supplied

The man who was killed after reportedly being struck by a Ports of Auckland pilot boat while swimming near a popular North Shore beach was a teacher at a nearby school, a husband and dad of two young children.

Leslie Gelberger, a keen ocean swimmer originally from Canada, was reported missing on Thursday afternoon after he failed to return from a swim at Narrow Neck Beach.

A passing commuter ferry found a man's body, believed to be Mr Gelberger's, which was missing a leg, about 4pm on Friday.

While the exact circumstances surrounding the his death are yet to be confirmed, police say they are investigating the possibility that he was hit by a boat, which has been identified, located and examined.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson confirmed one of its pilot boats was under investigation in relation to the death of a swimmer.

Westlake Girls High School board chair Joy Bradfield said Mr Gelberger had taught maths and science at the school since the beginning of this year and the school community was "shocked and saddened" by the news of his death.

"In his brief time at the school he has built up a reputation as an excellent teacher and was greatly respected by staff and students."

The school would support staff and students through the tragedy over the coming weeks, Ms Bradfield said.

"Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to his wife and family at this very sad time."

Friends are rallying around the young family of the "avid outdoors man" who was the sole financial provider, setting up a Give a Little fundraising page for his wife Laura and their two young sons.

"Laura and her boys have lost their beloved Leslie in a tragic incident while out enjoying his favourite past time swimming," a friend wrote on Give a Little.

"Laura and the boys need financial support during this trying time as Leslie's teaching job was their only source of income."

According to Ocean Swim New Zealand's website Mr Gelberger had completed at least four ocean swims since October last year, competing in the class for 40 to 44-year-old men.

A friend who paid tribute to Mr Gelberger on Facebook remembered him as "incredibly intelligent, a great conversationalist and very sporty".

His death was a "heart-breaking loss", the friend wrote.

Mr Gibson said Ports of Auckland was co-operating with police to help them determine what happened.

"I am extremely upset that one of our pilot boats may have been involved in the death of a swimmer. I understand the pain this will have caused and I offer the family and friends of the swimmer my deepest sympathies for their tragic loss," he said.

A spokesman for the company told the New Zealand Herald that the first the company heard about its potential involvement in the tragic death was when police approached staff on Thursday night while making enquiries into the incident.

Captain Russell Petrie, president of the New Zealand Merchant Service Guild, said the union had offered Ports of Auckland workers' legal support and would help organise counselling for staff as needed.

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