Raz Burtonwood went missing in the surf at Ballina.
Raz Burtonwood went missing in the surf at Ballina. Nolan Verheij-Full

'Nothing would have prevented him from swimming that day'

NOTHING was going to stop Lyn "Raz" Burtonwood from entering the ocean on February 16 and he died doing what he loved, an inquest has heard.

The brief inquest into the disappearance and suspected death of the 69-year-old, known by most as Raz, was held in Ballina on Thursday.

He had turned up for duty at the surf lifesaving club at Lighthouse Beach about 8.40am.

Volunteers were assessing the conditions ahead of a surf carnival that was scheduled for the following day.

His colleagues had seen Raz swim in rougher surf and had no concerns when he entered the water to check out the conditions.

Eoin Johnston had thought the surf was "like a washing machine", the inquest heard.

After his colleagues lost sight of him, a search began.

First, this involved one rescue boat but this expanded to include multiple vessels, helicopters, drones, Marine Rescue and the Coffs Harbour water police in the coming days.

The search was ultimately called off on Tuesday, February 19.

Hundreds of people took part in a paddle-out in Raz's memory in March.

Raz had been a high school maths teacher for 30 years and was involved in a handful of sports throughout his life.

The scope of the inquest was to consider whether Raz had in fact passed away, and how.

Assisting the coroner was Senior Sergeant Greg Huxtable, who tendered a brief of evidence which included statements from police and others involved with the search.

Raz's son, Che Burtonwood, told the inquest the father-of-three was "a bit different to every other father ... in a good way" and that shirts and shoes "were always optional".

"He always got the most out of life and we certainly loved him for that and I think everyone in town loved him," Mr Burtonwood said.

He said efforts to find his father were "a credit to him and also a credit to the Surf Life Saving Club and NSW Police and everyone involved".

"Our family have been overwhelmed by the support," he said.

Coroner Karen Stafford found Raz died in the water and that his drowning was accidental.

The inquest heard there had been no contact with family since his disappearance and no sign he had been active anywhere since February 16.

"I'm satisfied that his lifeguard colleagues started the search as quickly as possible," Ms Stafford said.

"(The search party) did all that could have been done to attempt to locate and rescue Mr Burtonwood and when that failed, to recover his body.

"It's deeply regrettable that these efforts were unsuccessful and I offer his family my condolences."

She acknowledged surf lifesavers "undertook searches in difficult conditions for a man who was their colleague and friend".

The inquest heard Raz - an otherwise fit an healthy man - had chronic stomach and intestinal problems and on the morning of his disappearance, was wearing a shoulder bandage.

The injury had been attributed to a cycleway accident the prior Monday, while he was on his way to play water polo.

"It's possible that his swimming ability was impaired by an injury or illness that ultimately led to him drowning," Ms Stafford said.

"Mr Burtonwood was a highly experienced ocean swimmer.

"He realised what the risks were and he chose to enter the water.

"Nothing would have prevented him from swimming that day. He died doing something that he loved."

Ms Stafford found there were no formal recommendations appropriate in the circumstances.



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