Tragedy hits family at beach

Fiona Gooder and Arly, 8, were having 'a fantastic time' at Ruakaka Beach in Northland.
Fiona Gooder and Arly, 8, were having 'a fantastic time' at Ruakaka Beach in Northland.
Half an hour before Fiona Gooder died while trying to save her foster daughter at a Northland beach, she sent her husband a text saying she "was in paradise".

The 43-year-old was at Ruakaka Beach with her three foster children and close family friends on Sunday afternoon when her 8-year-old daughter, Arly, and another child got into trouble in the surf.

Her husband, Bruce Martin, was in San Francisco on business when the tragedy happened. The last he heard of his wife of nearly 19 years was the text telling how happy they were.

"She sent me a text about half an hour before saying: "I'm in paradise, beautiful day, big king tides and I'm having a fantastic time."

Last night, a devastated Mr Martin told the Herald she almost made it back to the beach after battling the waves to save Arly's life - but was swept away by two massive waves.

She was only metres from safety.

"They [beach-goers] turned around and Fiona was standing up," Mr Martin said. "They were just standing there and thought she was OK and then two other waves came in and then, through just exhaustion, I think, it took her under and she obviously just took in too much water."

She had just pulled Arly to the shore on her back.

Ms Gooder, who owned a housing company with her husband, had been at the beach with their three children - Arly, 8, and foster sons Jarvis, 7, and Dillon, 11 - as well as best friend Emma Thacker and her two children.

A Danish tourist had jumped in the water to help Ms Gooder.

But it was too late. When St John paramedics arrived, she was dead.

"It was just unfortunate," Mr Martin said. "The kids had all come out with their boogey boards and then the two girls decided to go and just have a quick dip because they were just about to leave and that's where they got into trouble because they didn't have any boards."

He said Arly "didn't quite understand what happened", but understood that her mother had died trying to save her life.

Ms Gooder's sister, Robyn Sewter, was not surprised to hear how heroic she had been.

"She wouldn't even hesitate. She ... sprinted for her life to get into that water to save her girl."

Mr Martin said the beach was a big part of the family's life and they would often swim at Ruakaka.

"There's not normally rips there; it's a very safe beach. But it was just unfortunate with the [king] tides that were there yesterday, [the big swells were] unexpected."

Mr Martin said his wife was a huge part of the One Tree Point community and would be sorely missed.

"She was loved in this community and, mate, she just gave her all to everybody who was here."

Teachers and children from Ruakaka Primary School, where Mr Martin sits on the board of trustees, held a blessing on the beach yesterday afternoon.

The family plan to hold Ms Gooder's funeral at Waipu Cove cemetery, overlooking the beach, on Friday.

- Ben Irwin of the New Zealand Herald

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