"IS IT going to be okay? Is help coming?"
These were the last words Michael Fuller heard from his mate Stuart Butler before he was swept away by waves described as "extreme", "treacherous" and "terrifying" during a coronial inquest yesterday.
Stuart Butler is presumed drowned after being caught in a rip on July 19, 2014, at Cosy Corner, below Cape Byron, with his body and surfboard never recovered despite extensive air, land and sea searches.
The inquest into the disappearance of the 20-year-old Irish tourist heard that the surf was so dangerous at Tallow Beach that day that even the most experienced local surfers refused to paddle out while searches were twice cut short out of fear for the safety of rescuers.
Without those warnings, and with no knowledge of the notoriously dangerous rip that sweeps from Tallow Beach around Cape Byron, within minutes of paddling the trio were being swept towards the rocks below the Cape, State Coroner Michael Barnes was told.
The tourists had met while camping at the Mojo surf camp at Arrawarra, near Coffs Harbour, however, Mr Butler had never had a formal surf lesson and was described as a beginner surfer and not a strong swimmer.
"The rip was stronger than we could manage," Mr Fuller told the inquest.
"A wave took me and snapped my board in two. Stu seemed pretty panicky; pretty scared.
"He looked really tired; he was struggling to take control of his board."
While Mr Fuller clamoured onto a rock platform, Stuart Butler lost his grip as he attempted to undo his leg rope.
Levi Fahrenholtz, who managed to drift with the rip to safety at Wategos, said the three friends would never have entered the water had they been alerted to the dangers caused by the swell.
"I had no idea. I had only been (in Byron Bay) for two days," he said.
"Maybe a flashing light or a siren is needed to warn people if the surf is very dangerous."
Neither Mr Fahrenholtz nor Mr Fuller had noticed permanent signage at Tallow Beach carpark, the Coroner heard, while Snr Constable Colin Jones of Byron Bay police told the court the signage was "inadequate".
People don't notice the first sign when driving into the carpark and the second sign was too small and hidden behind the paid parking ticket station, he said.
After hearing evidence, counsel assisting the State Coroner, Sasha Harding's suggested recommendations were that more surf lifesaving services be allocated for Tallow Beach and that accommodation providers in Byron Bay give daily updates on weather conditions to travellers.