Family and friends of a missing Japanese woman watch the progress of police divers at Belongil Beach yesterday.
Family and friends of a missing Japanese woman watch the progress of police divers at Belongil Beach yesterday.

Search goes on for student drowned at Belongil Beach

By ALEX EASTON

WAWAN Prahara's friend, Rie, should have jetted home to Sydney yesterday, her mind returning to university assignments after a few days enjoying the beauty of Byron Bay.

But Rie, whose full name has not yet been released by police, is still out there, somewhere in the beautiful Bay, since she disappeared after being caught in a strong rip at Belongil Beach on Tuesday afternoon.

The 26-year-old Japanese student's parents, along with other family members and friends, yesterday morning joined Mr Prahara on Belongil Beach, where they sat on the bare sand, silently contemplating the waves and the police dive boat that lay behind them.

Mr Prahara met Rie, a friend-of-a-friend, early Tuesday afternoon when she, her sister, and a friend arrived to stay with him at his Sunrise home for a few days break from their hectic final year of a four-year university degree in Sydney.

Mr Prahara said Rie had been deciding whether to return to Japan at the end of her degree or stay in Australia with her boyfriend.

The search for Rie took a new tack early yesterday when a squad of police divers launched an inflatable dive boat from the Pass and began scouring the floor of the bay for the missing student.

A spokesman for Byron Bay dive shop, Sundive, said visibility had been a reasonable 10 to 15 metres at Julian Rocks yesterday morning, despite days of poor weather, high winds and choppy seas.

However, he said closer to shore, where police were seen searching, visibility would likely have been five metres or less.

That meant it would be difficult for divers to spot Rie's body, even if they were near her.

The Sundive spokesman said sending in divers to look for Rie 'was worth a try', and that they could search large distances, but their odds were poor.

Visibility under the water was improving as the day wore on, 'but with currents and tides, the body could be anywhere by now. They'd be lucky to find her in that same close area'.

A police spokesman yesterday said the dive squad was working through a large chunk of the bay as it searched for Rie.



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