Swimmers dicing with death

LESS than 24-hours after the Coffs Coast’s first beach drowning for the summer and, alarmingly, inexperienced swimmers continue to play Russian roulette on unpatrolled beaches.

The devastation surrounding the death of a 21-year-old Chinese woman at Sandy Beach on Tuesday has turned to frustration and concern.

Lifeguards are deeply troubled that hoardes of holidaymakers continue to bypass Coffs Harbour’s eight patrolled beaches to swim in some of the most dangerous stretches of our coastline such as Macauleys Beach.

The family of the 21-year-old Chinese woman, who drowned in the surf at Sandy Beach on Tuesday were set to visit Australia in two week’s time to see their daughter.

Dealing with every parent’s worst nightmare they now face the forlorn prospect of arranging her funeral.

“This death is a terrible tragedy and our sympathies, of course, go to the family and friends of the woman concerned,” Coffs Harbour Council’s head lifeguard Greg Hackfath said yesterday.

Mr Hackfath, fellow lifeguard Shaun Cansdell and NSW ambulance paramedics desperately tried to revive the woman after she was found unconscious and floating in heavy surf on Tuesday afternoon.

The woman, a visiting student boarding with a Chinese-Australian family at Sandy Beach, got into trouble while riding a boogie board shortly before 2pm.

She and a 14-year-old girl got caught in a strong rip. During the panic the deceased woman fell from her board and went under.

Sandy Beach locals managed to pull the younger girl to shore, then tried in vain to find the missing woman.

Shaun Cansdell, who was on patrol at Emerald Beach, mounted the search and rescue, finding the woman face down in the surf half an hour after the alarm was raised.

As those involved in the rescue reflected on the tragedy yesterday, there were suggestions that Shaun and local man Edward Kunst, who saved the 14-year-old, should be nominated by authorities for bravery awards.

“Shaun did a tremendous job to be there as quickly as he was and to have the presence of mind in an emergency to know where he would find the woman,” Mr Hackfath said.

“Drownings are extremely difficult things to come to terms with. It’s always tough telling the family afterwards ‘we did everything we could to save her’.

“They were devastated and in complete shock. They witnessed the whole thing from the beach and that will be with them forever.”

Similar incidents where international visitors have drowned on our beaches have prompted the launch of a multi-lingual beach safety brochure.

Surf Life Saving Australia aims to have the lifesaving tool distributed through surf clubs, universities, airlines, backpacker hostels, caravan parks and car hire outlets.

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