World-record freediver David Mullins was among a small group who desperately tried to save Eric De Vries, a highly experienced spearfisherman who died off the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand this weekend. Mullins told how he and his companions desperately tried to find Eric De Vries after he failed to surface after spearing a kingfish on Hunter's Bank, about 10km off Mana yesterday morning.
De Vries (52), married and the father of two teenage sons and a 24-year-old daughter, was a typographer with an advertising company in Wellington. He came to New Zealand from The Netherlands when he was 21 and became a well-respected freediver in the New Zealand spearfishing community. His "safe and cautious" approach to diving drew praise from fellow divers, and his colleagues spoke of his talents and love for his family.
Recovery Mullins said De Vries was in a small rigid-hulled inflatable with his dive buddy Josh Masson. Mullins was in a boat about 200m away when Masson reported his diving companion missing. "Josh saw him close to the surface hauling a tight line when he lost sight of him." He dived in, and when he couldn't find him, put out an SOS. Mullins said they immediately joined in the search.
They found the speared kingfish snagged at the bottom and then carried on searching for De Vries, making repeated dives before they finally found him nearby, 27m under water. Mullins dived again to release De Vries' weights to get him back up to the surface. They hauled him on board one of the boats and diving companions Tammy Anderson and Taija Peach continually tried to revive him as they raced back to the Mana Cruising Club at Pauatahanui. Firemen and medics continued CPR on the beach without success.
Experienced Mullins said De Vries was very experienced and skilful diver and unlikely to have got overexcited at having caught a large fish. It was a big shock to the small close-knit Wellington free-diving community. De Vries's sister-in-law said they were yet to learn what happened. "Eric was a lovely man, very selfless and devoted to his family. It was a dreadful loss."