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Coroner: Byron Bay needs better surf warning systems

LOOKING BACK: Brunswick Valley rescue and police were among those who searched for Irish surfer Stuart Butler (pictured below), who went missing at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay, in July last year.
LOOKING BACK: Brunswick Valley rescue and police were among those who searched for Irish surfer Stuart Butler (pictured below), who went missing at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay, in July last year. Mireille Merlet-Shaw Facebook

BYRON Bay needs better surf warning systems to prevent tourists from drowning, the state coroner has concluded after a coronial inquiry into the disappearance of Irish tourist Stuart Butler in heavy seas at Tallow Beach last year.

The 20-year-old's body was never found after he was swept away in treacherous surf on July 19, 2014 with coroner Michael Barnes yesterday finding that Mr Butler had accidentally drowned while attempting to surf in the "unsuitably rough" conditions.

The inquest heard evidence that Mr Butler and his two surfing companions had not heard weather warnings broadcast on TV and radio predicting 25-40 knot winds and four-metre swells that day and had not read signs at Tallow Beach because one of the trio had surfed there days earlier without drama.

"The stark reality is they should not have entered the surf from Tallows Beach on the day in question and that when they did they unwittingly put their lives at risk," Mr Barnes said.

"Young men are notorious risk takers. However, I am satisfied that had Mr Butler and his colleagues realised how dangerous the seas were they would not have exposed themselves to the risks that they did when

they went into the water on the day."

Mr Barnes recommended local accommodation providers give weather alerts and warnings to travellers and that Byron Shire Council consider installing signs at Tallow Beach that are updated daily with current information about surf conditions.

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson said Mr Butler's drowning was a "tragic wake-up call" for all stakeholders.

"The council will take on board the coroner's recommendations," he said.

"But I also think people need to take some personal responsibility."

Cr Richardson said updating signage at Tallow Beach on a daily basis could be "onerous and problematic" but early warnings at backpackers and hostels would be effective.

"We do need to educate these young travellers, and it needs to be a whole-of-community response," he said.

The accommodation recommendations were also welcomed by Surf Life Saving NSW spokeswoman Donna Wishart who said SLSNSW was already working on creating a database of backpackers and hostels that are issued with early warning emails of dangerous weather conditions.

The coroner stopped short of recommending more than summer holiday lifesaving patrols at Tallow Beach, noting Byron Shire Council had recently received a safety/risk audit of all local beaches.

Ms Wishart said the SLSNSW report, Project Blueprint, had gone before the council who were working through its recommendations, including funding year-round patrols at Main Beach.

Topics:  byron bay missing surfer stuart butler



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