Samoan father dies in Australian beach tragedy

A Samoan father died while trying to save his son and niece when they were swimming at a beach in Wollongong, Australia last Saturday.

The New Zealand-born father, Stephen Mote, refused help from rescuers and told them to save the children instead, reports New Zealand Herald.

He's now being remembered by his partner and family as a big-hearted, selfless man who put his children first.

"He sacrificed himself. He knew it was either him or the kids," his cousin Queenie Fa'alua is quoted by the New Zealand Herald.

"There were people trying to help him and he pushed [them towards the kids]."

Mr Mote was a strong swimmer. He wanted to go for one last dip at the beach in Wollongong, south of Sydney, after spending the afternoon fishing with his children, his partner Fordene MacDonald said.

Before getting into the water, Mr Mote said what would become his final words to his partner of five years.

"He said ‘I love you my love’, and I repeated it back."

Between them, the couple has nine children, Mr Mote's four sons, and Ms MacDonald's five children.

Ms MacDonald waited under a gazebo while the family members went swimming.

Mr Mote and his 10-year-old son and niece were playing in shallow water at Woonona Beach when they were swept out to sea by a wave, according to the New Zealand Herald.

At the same time, bystanders, surf lifesavers, and members of the local boardriders club used jet skis, boards, and a chilly bin lid to help the group.

The children were hauled to safety, but when the 41-year-old Mr Mote was dragged back to shore he was unconscious. 

He died on the beach despite paramedics' best efforts to save him.

His cousin Fa'alua remembered him as a funny man who put others before himself.

"He was the one that got our family together. He understood us. He was our role model. Now, that he protected us, who do we look to next? He's left a legacy [that] we can continue because we learned so much from him. It's really raw and sad."

She said Mr Mote's actions that day on the beach "shows you what kind of person he was."

A bystander, who grabbed a board and jumped in the water to help, later sent Ms MacDonald a message, praising Mr Mote's heroism and bravery.

"I wished I could've done more for Steve," the man said in the message.

Ms MacDonald said the family had never been to that part of the beach before and were having "a beautiful time" before the accident.

She said she'll no longer look at the beach the same.

"I hate that place. We (went) there to relieve stress ... (now) his four sons don't have a dad, my sons don't have someone they can rely on."

A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the family.

Mr Mote's father, Sam, told Australia's Channel 9 News that he was a "humble son".

“I feel pain, and shock when I heard the bad news, very painful, because he’s a humble son,” he said.

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