Canadian executive dies while diving

Tuesday December 03, 2019 Written by Published in Local
The Bubbles Below diving boat. 19120246 The Bubbles Below diving boat. 19120246

Aitutaki locals and visitors come together to support each other, report Rashneel Kumar and Katrina Tanirau.

A Canadian company director who “loved diving” drowned during a scuba trip in Aitutaki yesterday morning.

Gary Donison, 60, was holidaying on the island with his wife Leslie. He died during a tour with tour guides Bubbles Below.

It is understood that the dive on Aitutaki had been completed and everyone had come to the surface.

Thereafter Donison was noticed by a young woman diver as floating head-down in the water with his mouthpiece out.

Donison had booked the dive trip for himself and another couple travelling with them.

Company owner Menema Hewett confirmed a Canadian tourist had died while on one of their diving tours. She said her husband Onu had gone with the man to Aitutaki Hospital.

Leslie Donison wasn’t out on the diving trip with her husband and friends, but was called to come to the hospital.

Her husband was declared dead at the hospital. The preliminary determination is death by asphyxiation, though it’s thought natural causes may have contributed.

The two couples had stayed at the Edgewater in Rarotonga last week, then Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort since Friday.

Leslie Donison and Onu Hewett accompanied the body on an Air Raro charter flight to Rarotonga yesterday afternoon, for an official autopsy. His body was carried in a casket built by staff at the resort.

Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said he would be able to comment on the matter after a briefing today.

Gary Donison was president of Donison & Associates in Edmonton, Canada, a small firm that sold high-tech cameras and pipe inspection equipment.

Water Safety Council chairman Brent Fisher said his death was the first confirmed drowning this year. He expressed his condolences to Donison’s wife and their families.

Jason Napa, the resort manager at Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort said, this was an unexpected and tragic loss.

“We wish to send Leslie our deepest sympathies at this time of the sudden loss of her husband, Gary. Their Aitutaki family misses them.

“Our restaurant and front office teams are shocked and saddened by this news as they bonded closely with both Gary and Leslie in the few days since they arrived on Friday.

“They were a lovely, very happy couple, Gary always on the go, go, and Leslie quite content in just simply relaxing with book in hand.

“Our resort management teams in Aitutaki and Rarotonga have been working throughout the day to assist with this emergency in every way possible, co-ordinating with various authorities and agencies, and assisting Leslie and the couple’s friends.

“Leslie has now arrived safely in Rarotonga accompanied by the diving instructor who we understand is himself shaken.

“Our heart goes out to Leslie and her family in Canada and we will continue to assist throughout in every way we can.”

Leslie Donison told resort management yesterday: “Gary loved his diving”. 

At Aitutaki’s Maina Traders Superstore, manager Marito Maoate said locals and visitors always came together to support each other when tragedies like these happened.

In September last year, a Taiwanese national Yang Wei-Chung, 47, who was kayaking in the lagoon at Aitutaki had drowned while trying to rescue his 11-year-old daughter who had fallen overboard a boat.

And in 2015, a 37-year old German tourist drowned in Aitutaki after being swept off the double kayak he was paddling with a friend.

Cook Islands Tourism offered its deepest condolences to family and friends affected by the untimely death. The organisation was working with authorities to assist where it could, said Karla Eggelton, director of sales.

* Gary Donison's death was found to be drowning, caused by lung artery blockage eventually resulting in cardiac arrest.


  • Comment Link Victor Lim Tuesday, 21 January 2020 08:45 posted by Victor Lim

    I just heard of Gary's passing. Everything that everyone wrote here is exactly Gary. He loves scuba diving. My thoughts and prayers are for all of his family.

  • Comment Link Rick Hay Thursday, 12 December 2019 12:48 posted by Rick Hay

    Going to miss Gary. He was a great person and I enjoyed working with him over the years. He had a kind heart and was very driven in life.

  • Comment Link Jack Gamble Friday, 06 December 2019 13:00 posted by Jack Gamble

    I worked for and with Gary for 8 years. He was so knowledgeable, compassionate and turned into a great friend. He was so excited to be going diving in the Cook Islands. Condolences to Leslie and their extended family. Rest in peace Gary. You will be missed by many.

  • Comment Link Ken Farr Thursday, 05 December 2019 06:20 posted by Ken Farr

    Deepist regrets to Family and Friends. He was
    always happy to see a Friend and to have a Welcoming smile. Fridays at the shop will never be the same but what great memories to leave and share.

  • Comment Link Ethan Montgomery Wednesday, 04 December 2019 17:59 posted by Ethan Montgomery

    Gary was not only a good story teller but he was a great grandfather to me and my sister and my cousins he was a great person and will be forever missed I hope that my grandma Leslie Donison has a safe travel and that when she gets home she is loved and cared for all the memories that we all have had


    Ethan Montgomery
    Gary’s grandson

  • Comment Link Gerry Coursaux Wednesday, 04 December 2019 11:32 posted by Gerry Coursaux

    My condolences to family and friends. Gary was a great guy with a huge personality.

  • Comment Link Robert Williams Wednesday, 04 December 2019 11:05 posted by Robert Williams

    Gary was a brother to me. I could not believe that any of this was true, until Gary’s wife Leslie verified this horrible news to me. It still all feels surreal and my heart breaks for Leslie, the family, friends and all employees of Donison and Associates. He would do anything for anyone of us and I am lucky to have had the time I did with Gary and his memory will be with me for life. I miss you brother, until we meet again.

  • Comment Link Ken Smoliak Wednesday, 04 December 2019 11:01 posted by Ken Smoliak

    Gary was my best friend who enjoyed riding a Goldwing tour bike all through western Canada and USA. I still cannot believe this happened. He will be sadly missed. May he Rest In Peace. My special condolences to Leslie and family.

  • Comment Link Mark McEvoy Wednesday, 04 December 2019 09:54 posted by Mark McEvoy

    So sorry to hear of Gary's passing.
    God bless his wife and family. My sincerest condolences.
    He was a great man.
    R.I.P dear Gary.

  • Comment Link NICHOLAS KWASNYCIA Wednesday, 04 December 2019 09:32 posted by NICHOLAS KWASNYCIA

    So sad and much too early, Gods Love, Comfort and Blessngs to family and friends

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