HELP FROM ABOVE: The Westpac Helicopter was called into action during the retrieval of the drowned man at Belongil Beach. Pictu
HELP FROM ABOVE: The Westpac Helicopter was called into action during the retrieval of the drowned man at Belongil Beach. Pictu

Calls for full-time patrol at Belongil

By Janet Grist

THE most senior lifeguard in northern NSW has rejected calls for a full-time patrol at Byron Bay's Belongil Beach, where a 35-year-old Sydney man drowned on Tuesday.

A year ago, a Japanese tourist died at the same location in similar circumstances.

While the waves were small, the two victims got into trouble because of the beach's many rips and currents.

Stephen Leahy, Northern NSW Lifeguard co-ordinator said since Tuesday's tragedy a number of people had suggested patrols at the beach.

"People are saying council should put a lifeguard at that spot, but that's not necessarily the way to go. It is truly a remote location."

He said instead a whole-of-community approach was needed.

Mr Leahy said he would be happy to speak to the organisers of the Byron Bay Blues Festival as it would be a great idea to provide educational material on safe swimming at the event, which was held adjacent to Belongil Beach.

"But it's human nature that people are going to take shortcuts and walk over dunes and across paddocks for a swim, rather than drive into town to a patrolled beach," he explained.

Bluesfest organiser Peter Noble said while he had no objections to an information booth at the festival to educate swimmers, there was a limit to what could be done.

"I am not my brother's keeper," he said.

Mr Leahy said the main message to get out was that people should only swim at a patrolled beach.

"Our volunteers are on duty every single day at four beaches in the Byron area. They're highly qualified with the best equipment."

Stephen Leahy said people must heed warnings, media campaigns, and take time to read brochures left in hostels.

"If you see signs warning about conditions, read them, just don't walk past," he said.

"People should be aware of their swimming abilities," he said.

"If swimming on a remote beach make sure there's someone to help them or phone 000 if they get into trouble," Mr Leahy advised.



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