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Tourists unaware of hidden dangers

Police and other associated rescue services scour Cape Byron for any sign of the missing 19-year-old Irish surfer who went missing in rough seas last weekend.
Police and other associated rescue services scour Cape Byron for any sign of the missing 19-year-old Irish surfer who went missing in rough seas last weekend. Marc Stapelberg

MIKE Determan recalls with "crystal" clarity the day he and three other local surfers rescued two tourists drowning in a rip at Tallow Beach June 2004.

The surfers received bravery awards for their efforts to resuscitate a French traveller as waves smashed over them, but tragically the man later died.

Last Saturday another tourist, Irishman Stuart Butler, 20, was lost to the sea in the notorious rip at Tallow Beach raising questions of what is needed to stop the tide of visitors becoming drowning statistics on our coastline.

"You really feel for these people and their families," Mike Determan said.

"What happened that day (in 2004) is still crystal clear to me. People think the water looks so inviting, but without the right knowledge it can take you in an instant."

The strong rips that occur from Tallow Beach to Broken Head are well-known to locals - they even feature in Dreamtime stories told by local Bundjalung people with two sisters said to have drowned in a rip and then transformed into rocks at Broken Head - and yet, the deaths keep happening.

In the last 10 years there have been 16 drownings on Byron Shire beaches - more than half of them tourists - statistics prompting Surf life Saving NSW to commence Project Blueprint in 2012, a coastal risk assessment of every beach, rock platform and headland in the state.

Among the recommendations to have come out of the Project Blueprint are increased signage, more paid lifeguards and more angel rings for our beaches -all of which need funding.

Byron Shire Council has responded to the SLSNSW best practice recommendations of having two life guards on duty at council-managed beaches, director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway said, and spent $316,000 on beach patrol services last year, with the tender for 2014/15 services being advertised now.

The tender will also cover The Pass, Wategos, Tallow and Broken Head beaches managed by the Cape Byron Headland Trust and NPWS - with Tallow to have one lifeguard on duty during the Easter and summer holiday periods plus the October long weekend.

However, despite a massive public warning campaign by SLSNSW in the week leading up to the treacherous conditions that took the young Irishman's life last weekend and ongoing education by local surfers and instructors, veteran Byron Bay surfer and former Californian lifeguard, Rusty Miller, says the shire needs to implement a lifeguard system similar to California.

"We need year-round lifeguards for our town, equipped with oxygen and defibrillators," he said.

Mike Determan agrees, saying a lifeguard on duty may have been able to prevent the death of the tourist he valiantly tried to save from the Tallow rip all those years ago.

 

Drownings in the Byron Shire

6/02/2005 Tyagarah Beach, aged 28, male, Finish, international tourist, died while swimming

17/01/2006 Suffolk Park Beach, 44, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

1/03/2006 Tallow Beach, 30, female, Korean, Australian resident, died while swimming

21/01/2007 Brunswick Heads, 20, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

6/03/2007 Belongil Beach, 26, female, Japanese, Australian resident, died while swimming

21/07/2007 Brunswick Heads, 20, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

16/09/07 Wategos, 57, male, unknown status, died while on a surfcraft (non powered)

25/03/2008 Belongil Heads, 35, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

28/04/2008 Belongil, 58, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

11/05/2010 Suffolk Park, 30, male, African-American, Australian resident, died while swimming

1/04/2012 Belongil Beach, 24, male, Indian, Australian resident, died while swimming

1/04/2012 Belongil Beach, 25, male, Indian, Australian resident, died while swimming

21/12/2012 New Brighton, 28, female, German, international tourist, died while on a surfcraft (non powered)

28/02/2014 Brunswick Beach, 50, male, Australian resident, died while swimming

12/03/2014 Brunswick Beach, aged in 70s, male, English, international tourist, died while swimming

19/07/2014 Byron Bay, 20, male, Irish, international tourist, died while on a surfcraft (non powered).

Topics:  drowning life savers surf rescue



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