Jimmy Laulu always wanted to fly in a plane. He finally did that three weeks ago, coming to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Jimmy Laulu always wanted to fly in a plane. He finally did that three weeks ago, coming to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Family mourn loss of boy who dreamed of flying

A SAMOAN family who moved to New Zealand just weeks ago for a better life are mourning the loss of a son.

Jimmy Atilua Laulu, 3, drowned in a lagoon at Ocean Beach near Hastings while on a family outing on Christmas Day.

He is one of six people killed or missing on the water since Friday.

He was found by his uncle about an hour after he was last seen.

Another uncle, Simi Laulu, said the family had been "very down and very sad".

They were drawing strength from all of the support they were getting from friends and relatives. "They help share our pain and lift us up."

He described his nephew as a very happy, active boy. "He always looked up to adults and wanted to try what they did."

Jimmy wanted to know everything and was always asking questions. "He talked too much, except when he was watching cartoons," Mr Laulu joked.

He said Jimmy was grandchild number seven but considered himself to be number one. "It must have been that blond hair."

Jimmy was the oldest of three and "very protective" of his brothers.

"He would always watch out for them and give them a big hug when they got hurt."

He was especially close to his father. "When he would wake up after dad put him to bed, Jimmy would get back up and get back in bed next to his dad."

Jimmy fulfilled one of his dreams just before his death. "Whenever we would leave Samoa, he would yell out for us to take him because he always wanted to fly on a plane.

"He fulfilled that dream three weeks ago when he flew to New Zealand, and now he's gone.

"His father told me that when Jimmy was on the plane he was 'so happy'. He asked a million questions and was in awe of the view below."

Mr Laulu said his brother was inconsolable on seeing the lifeless body.

"When he saw it was his son, it was like he ran out of breath; he couldn't talk, he was just so sad."

A young witness at the beach, who had met Jimmy for the first time that day, told the Herald last night of the moment Jimmy's body was found.

"We went over and we saw the mum cry but we didn't know what was really going on. So we looked on the ground and then that's when we saw Jimmy and then two guys doing CPR."

Surf lifesavers gave Jimmy CPR for 45 minutes but he could not be revived.

The witness said it was a terrible sight. "It was scary," she said, recalling how Jimmy's mother cried out in horror.

"Everyone was scared and worried and we just all stood by and prayed."

Ocean Beach Surf Lifesaving director Andy Callinicos said the lifeguards on patrol that day did the best job they could have done.

"It's obviously a very tragic event."

He said parents needed to supervise their children at all times if they chose to let them in the lagoon.

The club wanted to use the tragedy as a timely reminder for how to keep safe this summer.

"Never swim alone, always have an adult present, swim between the flags and be considerate to other surf users," Mr Callinicos said.

Pacific Navigation Services director Tim Hutchins said it was a tragic loss for a family who had moved to New Zealand for a better life.

"With only recently moving to New Zealand and the excitement of being selected through the New Zealand Immigration Quota scheme, their year has ended in pieces."

Mr Hutchins said Pacific Islanders had one of the highest rates of drowning in this county.

"It would be great to see Pacific language swimming programmes rolled out in New Zealand."

Mr Hutchins said Jimmy's death was a devastating loss not only for his family but also for their tightknit church group and the general Samoan community.

Just hours after Jimmy died, a 17-year-old was caught in a rip at Castlecliff Beach, in Whanganui.

His body was found last night just north of where he went missing.

Also on Christmas Day, a 33-year-old man and a woman in her 40s drowned near Raglan.

On Boxing Day, an 82-year-old Briton drowned at Opito Bay in the Bay of Islands.

She had been out for a dawn walk and it seemed that upon returning home, she had suffered a medical event and fallen into a pond and drowned.

About 6pm, a 12-year-old boy riding an inflatable ski biscuit behind a boat was hit by a passing vessel on Blue Lake at St Bathans in Central Otago. He and his mother were flown to Dunedin Hospital, but he later died of his injuries.

Water Safety New Zealand said this holiday period had the worst start to drowning statistics since 2003, when five people died in the first two days.

- additional reporting: Anna Leask, Susan Strongman, Kurt Bayer and Scott Yeoman

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