Drowning woman's final moments
By ALEX EASTON
WAWAN PRAHARA is no stranger to death, but nothing could have prepared him for the sudden loss of a new friend in the surf at The Belongil on Tuesday.
Mr Prahara said he met the 26year-old Japanese student, a friend-of-a-friend from Sydney who he knew only as 'Rie', about 1pm on Tuesday.
She had arrived with her sister and another friend to stay at his Sunrise home and take a short break from her studies.
A few hours later, she was gone. Sucked out to sea on a beach Mr Prahara said he had swum safely at nearly every day since he moved to Sunrise nine years ago.
Mr Prahara said he and his visitors had spent the first couple of hours planning activities for the visit and playing music on didgeridoo, drums and guitar, before heading to the beach, just north of Belongil Creek, to escape the afternoon heat.
The ocean was at low tide when they arrived, with a long channel of water, waist-deep at the most, spiking out from the bay towards the dunes. It was here that the group paddled and walked along the water's edge, safe, they believed, from the rough breakers beyond.
They were wrong.
"I was in the deep side and I felt something strange," Mr Prahara said.
The 'something strange' was a sudden rip that began pulling everything in the channel towards the ocean.
"I called the girls back then, suddenly, she was in the deep side and the other girls were in the deep side," he said.
One of the girls made it out of the channel and onto the beach, with two, including Rie, being dragged into the breakers.
Mr Prahara said he swam for the girls, grabbing one of them and, by pushing and pulling, slowly dragged her free of the surf and onto the safety of the beach.
"I tried to go back, but I had no energy. I tried to swim ... but I thought if I kept trying I would be pulled out as well," he said.
Instead he ran for his car and the mobile phone he had in it to call emergency services, hoping they could reach the deserted beach fast enough to rescue Rie.
When he returned to the beach a short time later, Mr Prahara said he could still see Rie swimming, trying to free herself from the rip. He tried again to go after her, but still lacked the strength to take on the big swell.
Moments later Rie, now near the last line of breakers, disappeared.
"I know this is life and passing away or death is part of that," Mr Prahara said. "A few months ago my friend passed away next to me while we were drumming together; but this time ..."
Police said they and volunteer rescue groups spent Tuesday afternoon and evening searching the waters and beach between Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads for Rie, without success.
The search continued yesterday morning, this time including the police helicopter, which had just been freed from the search for nine-year-old Trent Rose at Kyogle. But the search was abandoned about 12.40pm because of bad weather.
The search resumes today.
Police had yesterday not released Rie's name. Her parents were expected to arrive in Byron Bay this morning.