Leroy Kaaho: Heroic man, 48, drowns in lake after preventing his 10-year-old son from suffering same fate

Leroy Kaaho: Heroic man, 48, drowns in lake after preventing his 10-year-old son from suffering same fate
(Representative picture, Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

GLENORCHY, NEW ZEALAND: A heroic man tragically died after saving his son from drowning in a South Island lake. Leroy Kaaho, 48, went missing on Friday, January 13, when he attempted to rescue his 10-year-old son, who was swimming with his elder brother in Lake Wakatipu.

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The Wanaka resident, also known as Linkin Kisling, managed to save his son but was not seen coming out of the water. His body was reportedly found 24 hours later, on Saturday, January 14, following a long and desperate search. “Those 24 hours were a daze. I was in shock, in disbelief, I could hear my children screaming and crying,” Kaaho’s wife, Saina, said, as per NZ Herald.

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Emergency services were first called to Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy around 2.55 pm when Saina started crying for help. The local police immediately launched an investigation to locate Kaaho, with six boats and two helicopters roped in to find him. As the search team continued to look for him, his son was rushed to Lakes District Hospital in Queenstown with minor injuries.

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Senior Sergeant John Fookes said that the police divers found Kaaho's body on the lakebed, about 164ft from the Rees River mouth, around 3pm on Saturday. His family members identified him via police, according to the NZ Herald.

Saina thanked the Glenorchy community members who rallied around them to support them while authorities searched for Kaaho's body. “I was in shock, my children needed that comfort and they did it. There was a midwife who came, took my son’s pulse, and got him a blanket. They stayed until the end. I am very grateful to everyone who was there with us," she reportedly said.

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Kaaho was a stay-at-home dad to his three young children, who were his greatest joy in life. He was passionate about physical activity, having played rugby up until 2022 and holistic health. He had also recently taken up taken gardening as a hobby. His eldest daughter, Trinity, who flew in from Australia after receiving the saddening news, said that she still could not believe what had happened. “Me and my father were inseparable and absolutely best friends so it’s a very, very, very big loss. Dad was a big inspiration and just my absolute everything,” she said, adding, “So to have that taken away ... although I will say, the reason why [he was taken] I think it’s just amazing, you know, that just explains exactly who my dad is.”

Police also confirmed a rāhui or prohibition is in place on an area that covers Glenorchy and the Dart River end of Lake Wakatipu until 3 pm on Tuesday, January 15. “The rāhui has been placed on behalf of Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāi Tahu ki Tuawhenua Kāhui, a blessing was held at the site yesterday,” a spokesperson said.

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