Brooms Head RFS co-ordinator Boots Towner and Clarence lifeguard duty officer Peter Sweetman on the beach where a man drowned.
Brooms Head RFS co-ordinator Boots Towner and Clarence lifeguard duty officer Peter Sweetman on the beach where a man drowned. Marsha Neville

Man, 69, drowns in rip

A MAN holidaying at the Brooms Head caravan park died yesterday after he was pulled from a rip by a by-stander and a surfer.

Brian Donelly, 69, of Doubtful Creek, north of Casino, and his wife of 40 years, Carol, were swimming in a one-metre swell near the southern corner of Brooms Head beach around 11am.

But then Townsend resident Justin Ross noticed they were both in trouble.

“I was swimming with my two kids and the elderly couple were next to us,” he said.

“I went in to put on some sun block and the old guy started yelling for help.”

Mr Ross drove to the Snack Shack, about 100 metres away to find a rescue board.

“By the time I got back I couldn’t see the man at all and the lady was starting to gounder,” Mr Ross said.

A surfer brought Mr Donelly to shore while Mr Ross rescued his wife.

“She was exhausted, she couldn’t walk,” Mr Ross said.

An off-duty ambulance officer, John Vantebbere, ran to the caravan park office to get a defibrillator that had been bought by the community 12 months ago.

The park’s manager, Danielle Barrett, along with another holiday-maker, Alison Graham, performed CPR on the man unsuccessfully.

An ambulance arrived 25 minutes later but the victim could not be revived.

Clarence Valley lifeguard supervisor Greg Wiley said that yesterday there was ‘virtually no rip’.

But Mrs Donelly told police the undertow was strong so she and her husband headed for shore and were hit by two strong waves.

The Donellys had been going to Brooms Head for holidays since 1972.

Mrs Donelly was taken by ambulance to Maclean Hospital where she was under observation.

Brian and Carol Donelly’s Doubtful Creek neighbour, Neil Pethers, was shocked when he got the news.

“It is very hard to accept,” he said. “We usually have a gathering here each Friday night to have a few beers, tell a few lies, and run a footy tipping contest.

“Brian left here last Friday to have two weeks off at the beach with his wife, and I was expecting him to ring me today to put his footy tips in, but I got the call from his son instead.

“I think we’ll be gathering just for Brian tonight.”

Mr Pethers said Mr Donelly was the perfect neighbour.

The former accountant from Balkham Hills in Sydney retired to the Northern Rivers five years ago.

“He was a very laid-back fellow, polite and well spoken,” Mr Pethers said.

“I look after their place when they’re away and do his cattle work for him.

“They knew that beach well. They go there about three times a year.

“It’s a big shock. He was a lovely bloke and he’ll be sadly missed.”

Mr Donelly died the same day that Saxon Bird, 19, drowned while competing in rough conditions during the U-19 Ironman event at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at Kurrawa on the Gold Coast.

There have been four other drownings on the Northern Rivers in the past three months.

On Boxing Day a 54-year-old Brisbane man died while swimming at Lighthouse Beach. Sydney couple Joe and Carole Sherry died inJanuary after getting intotrouble at South Ballina Beach.

Earlier this month Ballina man Kevin Richards, 74, drowned while trying to cross a flooded causeway near Ellangowan in his ute.

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