'We have to find you': Partner's heartbreak after jet boat crash

The Taramakau River, where a jet boat overturned. Photo: NZ Herald
The Taramakau River, where a jet boat overturned. Photo: NZ Herald
Friends and family of the man swept away during a jet boating accident are scouring the swollen West Coast river where he was last seen to "bring you home".

Two men were washed downstream on the Taramakau River on Friday after a jet boat crash, but only one was rescued by a helicopter that happened to be in the vicinity.

Daniel McLellan-Skeggs (29), of Christchurch, was swept away after the crash. His body is yet to be found.

Skeggs' loved ones gathered at the river today to search for him. They say he left them doing what he loved and had "such a big heart".

Skeggs' partner wrote on Facebook she was hoping they found his body soon so they could give him a proper farewell.

The father of two had "touched so many hearts", she wrote.

"We have to find you, we have to bring you home to your family and friends.

"You were someone that could mix with so many circles and everyone loved you, because you're true and you're real and have such a big heart.

"I wish you realised how many people there are out here who love you so much."

Police were first called to the scene, about 1km upstream from the William Stewart Bridge, about 2.25pm yesterday.

A photo posted to social media appeared to show family laying flowers at Taramakau River during the search.

Friends commented how he was "too young" to leave them.

"Very sad to hear bro too young to be gone you'll be truly missed," one friend wrote.

"You're a great person and always will be. Much love to the brother."

A helicopter pilot who daringly tried to prevent the tragedy spoke to the Herald yesterday of how he could only help one of the two men after they were entered the water.

Ahaura Helicopters pilot Heath Bagnall was spraying around the area for the Department of Conservation when ground crew called and alerted him to the crash.

"[They said] 'They might need help', and then he sounded a bit more assertive on the phone - 'definitely come up, one is starting to go under'," he said.

The pair flew first towards the man they believed was in greater distress and threw empty fuel canisters into the water, hoping to give him something buoyant to hold on to.

"He was that weak he could not even hold on to it," Bagnall said.

"The current was running about 8 to 9 knots, so we were flying backwards with ours skids just on top of the water."

It was extremely difficult, the semi-flooded river was dirty due to recent rain and snow melt, he said.

It was easy to lose sight of the horizon while flying backwards in moving water and they could have become disorientated, he said.

But they only had one chance at getting Skeggs. His arm reached up and then he slipped under, Bagnall said.

"He just disappeared backwards into the murky water," he said.

"You couldn't see more than six inches underwater."

They immediately knew they had to try to save the other man, he said.

Bagnall's crewman straddled the skid with his legs in the water and reached out to him.

"Once we had a grip on him we dragged him backwards and sideways through the water all at the same time," Bagnall said.

"It felt like an eternity."

They were not trained for a rescue in those conditions and he never thought he would be in a situation like that, he said.

"It's just instinct really."

Bagnall said they flew further down the river to try to locate the missing man but it had become too dangerous to attempt any type of recovery.

The rescued man was treated by an ambulance at the scene and taken to hospital.

Bagnall has been a pilot for 15 years and credits instinct and close communication with his crewman for what they were able to do.

The search for the missing man resumed this morning with about 25 people scouring the area.

Four jet boats with Surf Rescue personnel onboard and four ground crews started searching the area between the Taramakau bridge and Kumara-Inchbonnie Rd about 9.30am.

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