A 21-year-old New Zealand woman drowned on Feb. 6 when the opening of the Waikato River floodgates caught her by surprise.
Rachael De Jong and two of her friends were swimming in the river and did not hear the warning siren that went off five minutes before the gates opened, reports the Daily Mail.
Two German tourists, Katrin Taylor and Kevin Kiau, witnessed the horrifying event from a viewing platform in the Aratiatia Dam area.
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When the waters began rising, the tourists saw the girls attempt to jump to a nearby rock where a man was standing.
"We saw the first girl made it. The guy pulled her in. The second girl jumped and made it safe as well -- the guy pulled her in," Taylor said in an interview with the website Stuff. "The third girl, she jumped but the water was washing her away so the guy grabbed her."
According to Taylor, the man and the third woman were washed away. De Jong's body was recovered from a rockpool later that night.
The fate of the man was not specifically mentioned in reports, though Taylor's comments imply that he too perished in the rushing water. "We thought they would have broken bones but they would come out alive," she said.
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In a public statement, De Jong's brother said:
Not only was she an inspiration to us all, she was my best friend, and the most perfect sister I could ever have asked for. I can't even begin to describe how much I'm going to miss you, and how incredibly unfair it is that you have been taken far, far too soon. You never spoke a bad word of anyone, and you had such an infectious smile that could cheer anyone up. There's not enough words in the world I could use to describe you. I love you so much Rachael, rest easy.
Auckland University of Technology, where De Jong was a student, also responded. "Rachael De Jong was a student in our Physiotherapy school and was known as a bright, cheerful, kind and diligent member of the student community and was well respected by her lecturers and peers," said Vice Chancellor Derek McCormack. "Our thoughts are with Rachael's family and friends at this extremely difficult and sad time. AUT extends our sincere condolences."
There will reportedly be a safety review of the spillway where the accident occurred.