By ZOE SATHERLEY
AN OLDER couple enjoying an afternoon swim together became caught in a rip and drowned at Lennox Head yesterday.
The pair got into difficulties about 1pm, less than 40 metres from shore, right in front of the Lennox Head Surf Club on Seven Mile Beach.
The beach was not patrolled.
The surf conditions were fairly gentle, with a small swell of about one metre topped with a choppy wash of waves and a light breeze.
However, a strong rip was active just off the beach ? a rip that last Sunday almost caused the death of a mother, her daughter and a male friend.
The trio were rescued by surfers when they were swept out to sea from the same spot.
Yesterday, surfers Scott Romain and Deb Bond, both of Byron Bay, went to the rescue of the older couple, but were too late to save their lives.
Scott said it appeared the couple had earlier tried to signal they were in distress.
"Deb and I were about five minutes too late," Scott said.
"It is such a terrible but avoidable tragedy."
Police last night were not able to release the name of the couple, believed to be from Queensland and aged in their 60s or 70s.
Scott, 35, and Deb, 32, who run the Byron Learn To Surf Company, had arrived at Seven Mile Beach early in the morning to prepare for their daily surfing classes.
"When we arrived we scanned the beach for the best place to set up," Scott said.
"Anyone with a small amount of surf knowledge could have seen the rip running fast in front of the surf club.
"We chose to set up further north along the beach where there was no rip and it was much safer."
Scott said that at about 1pm a women who said she was an English tourist approached him on the beach to say she was concerned about two people she had seen waving their arms in the water.
"The woman obviously didn't understand that this might have been a signal that the couple needed help," Scott said.
"She told me she had watched the people for a while and initially thought they might just be having fun and waving. They were going under a lot and she thought they might be snorkelling.
"When they stopped waving and she lost sight of them she got worried and came to me to raise the alarm. I think she also rang 000."
Scott and Deb raced down the beach with their surfboards to the place where the couple was last sighted and headed out through the waves.
"I found the man first, floating face down, about 30 metres off the beach. He had no pulse and was clearly dead," Scott said.
"I tried to get him onto my board, but the waves kept washing him off.
"In the end I had to swim him back to shore across the rip, which was pretty hard work."
Meanwhile Deb had paddled further offshore, searching for the woman.
She said she had felt a sinking feeling when they discovered the dead man, knowing that it was unlikely the woman was alive.
Her fears were confirmed when she found the woman, also floating face down, about 40 metres offshore.
"She looked dead and very peaceful, but I tried to resuscitate her with a whack on the back to dislodge the water she had swallowed and hopefully get her breathing," Deb said.
"She didn't respond in any way, but I tried to keep her head above water as I brought her back to shore.
"I felt very sorry for the English tourist waiting on the beach. She was very distressed.
"And I felt even sorrier thinking this was someone's mum and dad or nan and pop.
"Then I looked at the beautiful sky and the ocean. It was a lovely day and they were together probably doing something they loved. They both looked so peaceful. I thought it wasn't such a terrible way to die, even though it will be an enormous tragedy for the family left behind."
Police and ambulance officers attended the scene. Several by- standers attempted CPR.