THE Westpac Rescue Helicopter helps find a swimmer who drowned at Belongil Beach.
THE Westpac Rescue Helicopter helps find a swimmer who drowned at Belongil Beach.

Tourist drowns at Byron

By RACHEL AFFLICK rachel.afflick@northernstar.com.au A 35-year-old Sydney man has drowned after being caught in a rip at Byron Bay's Belongil Beach - nearly one year to the day after a Japanese tourist died at the same spot in similar circumstances.

The man, who was staying in Byron Bay for the Blues Festival, was swimming just east of Belongil Creek when he was sucked out to sea by a severe rip at 12.30pm.

A passer-by who could not swim saw the man was in trouble and called 000, remaining on the scene until lifeguards arrived.

Northern NSW Lifeguard co-ordinator Stephen Leahy said lifeguards searched the area on jet skis while the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter did an aerial search.

"The waves themselves were less than half a metre but in that area there were many rips and strong currents," Mr Leahy said.

In a matter of minutes the helicopter crew spotted a man in the water, about 300 metres west of Belongil Creek.

A lifeguard found the man unconscious and dragged him onto the sled behind his jet ski.

Despite the best efforts of the emergency services to resuscitate the man, he could not be revived.

Mr Leahy said it was tragic to think that less than a kilometre down the beach there was a fully-manned lifeguard service and safer conditions.

The man's death comes one year since a 26-year-old Japanese student died on the same stretch of beach after being caught in a rip.

Her body was found in the same spot.

Given yesterday's drowning, Mr Leahy has called on all local festival organisers to consider including water safety education events in their planning process.

"This accident was pretty much preventable," Mr Leahy said.

"It highlights the importance of continuing to swim at patrolled beaches.

"I want to applaud the quick efforts of lifeguards and the volunteers from the Byron Bay Surf Lifesaving Club who attended.



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