A distraught wife has told how her husband died saving their two young sons from drowning on the NSW south coast, on what should have been the last week of a family holiday.
British man Andrew Priestley, 44, managed to keep the two boys - Matthew, 12, and Daniel, 10 - afloat long enough for others to reach them and drag them to safety. But he was unable to stay above the waves himself and his body was later found floating face down.
Priestley, a businessman from Market Harborough in Leicestershire, had been on a three-week driving holiday from Sydney to Melbourne with his wife, Amanda, and their children when they decided to stop at Burrill Beach, near Ulladulla.
Mrs Priestley said the tragedy began to unfold about midday on Friday, when her husband and the two boys entered an inlet leading to the open sea for a swim while she stayed on the beach with their eight-year-old daughter, Amelia.
When Matthew and Daniel began to be dragged underwater by a rip, they started to scream. Priestley, who was in the sea himself, reached the boys, held them above the waves and lifted them onto a surfboard, allowing other beach users to pull them to safety.
Mrs Priestley's father, Terence Collins, 80, said his daughter phoned him with the dreadful news.
''Amanda said Andrew died saving the children,'' he said. ''She said … by the time they came back for Andrew, he had been washed away by these terrible rip currents. His body was found face down in the water. He died a hero.''
Although police and paramedics were quickly on the scene and Priestley was rushed to nearby Milton Ulladulla Hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Police will prepare a report for the coroner, expected to include a post-mortem examination, which will determine whether Priestley suffered a heart attack before drowning.
Chad Pennie, 33, a surfer, said he rushed into the sea with fellow surfer Matt Owen, 36, after seeing a man in the water trying to help Priestley.
Mr Pennie, who had walked past the family while they were playing cricket 30 minutes earlier, said: ''He [Priestley] was face down in the water and the guy was struggling to swim himself. I had to just put him over my shoulder and just throw him over the waves.''
Mr Owen said: ''The worst bit that got me was when I walked past the family and I saw the kids crying.
''Every holidays I have pulled people in. Things like this would not happen if this was patrolled by lifeguards.''
Kirrily Storey, the manager of Burrill Lake Tourist Park, ran to the beach and saw Priestley being taken away by paramedics.
''It was horrific. It was just one of those freak accidents,'' she said. ''He really did the right thing by swimming where there were other people. It was not a particularly rough day.
''They were just having fun in the surf. The tide was going out and there was a sandbank with waves crashing in. It is quite easy to slip off the sandbank.''
Mrs Storey said she had spoken to several of those involved in the rescue, including the man who first made it to Priestley, but they were too traumatised to recount their experiences.
''It has really devastated our little community. It was lucky the bystanders were there. It could have been a lot worse,'' she said.
Mrs Priestley and her children, who were understood to have received counselling, were being comforted by friends.
Mr Collins, of Streatham, south London, said: ''She is bearing up. She knows she has to stay strong for the children. He was a lovely man.''
Although known for its treacherous rips, Burrill Beach is generally not patrolled by lifesavers. It has a ''highly hazardous'' danger rating, and a notice on its website warns of ''rips every 300m and against the headland'', adding that ''the rips are linked by an often deep trough''. Swimmers are warned to stay in the shallow water and avoid the rips, particularly near the entrance to the inlet.
It was the second drowning at the beach in weeks following the death of a Filipino national last month.
Glenn Matthews, director of the local Surf Lifesaving South Coast branch, said the death was ''extremely sad''. He added: ''The message here is to please swim between the flags of patrolled beaches and learn to identify rips and currents and how to escape one.''