Part of Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach was closed to swimmers yesterday following the drowning death of a man on Boxing Day.
Part of Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach was closed to swimmers yesterday following the drowning death of a man on Boxing Day. Jay Cronan

Tourist drowns at Ballina

A BOXING Day swim at Ballina ended in tragedy for a Brisbane man holidaying in the region.

The 54-year-old was standing on a sandbank at Lighthouse Beach with his 16-year-old son from Melbourne before they were swept into deeper water by a strong rip.

Surf Life Saving NSW state duty officer Jim Keough said it was frustrating that the pair had been swimming just 200m south of the patrolled area.

“If they had swum between the flags they would have been in a safer area,” he said. “It’s just tragic. This would not have happened.”

Mr Keough said they had been swimming on the incoming tide.

“There was lots of movement in the water and a strong southerly rip running along the beach, which is how the gentleman was moved along further,” he said.

“Conditions can change fast, especially on the incoming tide.”

Northern NSW Lifeguard coordinator Scott McCartney said the volunteer lifesavers did everything they could to save the father and son.

“They had the numbers, but there was a real strong sweep down there and the father had gone under halfway down the beach,” he said.

Mr McCartney said the conditions at the time were a lot rougher than they had been throughout the week, catching tourists unaware.

“The whole week the water was fairly flat, but today was the first day the wind really got up and there were bigger waves and lots of gutters and troughs,” he said.

After the strong waves knocked the father and son off the sandbank, Mr Keough said the couple struggled in the water before a person swimming nearby went to their aid.

“At that stage the father was floating on his back, and the member of the public asked about his welfare,” Mr Keough said.

Mr McCartney said the nearby swimmer alerted lifesavers about the father and son.

“The young kid basically made his way into shore by himself, but had some assistance from volunteer lifesavers,” he said.

Mr Keough said the father was then ‘dumped by a couple of waves’. He failed to resurface.

After the teen was rescued and taken ashore, lifesavers from the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club continued to search for the missing father using jet skis and the rubber duckie from the surf club, and with assistance from Ballina Jet Rescue Boat.

Mr Keough said the man’s body was recovered near the North Wall entrance to the Richmond River 20 minutes later, a further 200m south from where the couple had originally been swimming.

“They commenced CPR on him straightaway, and he was transported to the Richmond River where we rendezvoused with the ambulance,” he said.

However, he was pronounced dead due to suspected drowning.

A post-mortem examination is expected to be carried out early this week.

A 75-year-old man died while swimming at Turners Beach at Yamba on Boxing Day.

Mr McCartney said a member of the public walking past saw the man lying on the sand looking unwell, and notified nearby lifeguards. Lifeguards on duty tried to revive the man when he collapsed shortly after 1pm, however were unsuccessful. He had a history of cardiac problems.

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