‘We can’t be everywhere’ – Illawarra lifesavers’ plea as drowning toll spikes

Life Saving Illawarra duty officer Anthony Turner oversees a dye demonstration at Woonona on Tuesday. The dye curved northward, meeting an incoming wave, showing how a stricken swimmer could safely make it back to shore if they followed advice to conserve energy by floating with the rip until it subsides. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Life Saving Illawarra duty officer Anthony Turner oversees a dye demonstration at Woonona on Tuesday. The dye curved northward, meeting an incoming wave, showing how a stricken swimmer could safely make it back to shore if they followed advice to conserve energy by floating with the rip until it subsides. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Lifesavers are urging Illawarra and South Coast beachgoers to heed tried and true advice on where to swim, following a third drowning death. 

A 33-year-old man pulled from the surf at a Port Kembla beach on Sunday afternoon died in hospital on Tuesday, bringing the region’s coastal drowning toll to three, since the start of patrol season. 

In Woonona on Tuesday to oversee a dye-drop demonstration, showing the behaviour of a well-known rip, Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce said the statewide toll now stood at 22.

With three months of patrols remaining the toll is expected to surpass that of last year, when there were 31 coastal drowning deaths across the entire season. 

“We are concerned that some people aren't listening to our messages,” Mr Pearce said. 

“Our lifesavers do a fantastic job. People must remember that our lifeguards and lifesavers, even though they’re the best-equipped, best trained and probably some of the most heroic here in the Illawarra, that’s all useless, unless they can see you in the water.” 

KEEPING WATCH: Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce looks over the sea at Woonona, following a horror weekend on the region's coastline. Picture: Sylvia Liber

KEEPING WATCH: Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce looks over the sea at Woonona, following a horror weekend on the region's coastline. Picture: Sylvia Liber

With high temperatures bringing huge crowds to the Illawarra at the weekend, a significant number of swimmers ventured outside of the crowded space between the red and yellow flags.

Mr Pearce said there were no plans to increase the number of patrolled beaches in the region. 

“Our lifesavers can’t be everywhere for everyone,” he said. “That’s why we pick out the most safe places on the beach, away from the rips, and why we have our lifesavers [there].”

“In 110 years, no one has drowned in between the red and yellow flags. All the drownings have been outside the flags and predominantly at unpatrolled locations.” 

About 1200 active volunteers man the llawarra’s beaches, according to Surf Life Saving Illawarra president Peter Evert. They have so far carried out 112 rescues this season, he said. “I’d like to congratulate the volunteer lifesavers on their extraordinary efforts and continued vigilance of service.” 

About 1pm on Sunday, emergency services were called to MM Beach in Port Kembla after members of the public pulled teh 33-year-old man – who police said was visiting from South Western Sydney – from the water.

He was unable to be revived at the beach by his rescuers or paramedics, and was taken to Wollongong Hospital in a critical condition.

Police confirmed he died on Tuesday morning.

He had been visiting the beach with his wife and young children, police said.

The man’s death followed that of a 48-year-old man, who was found floating face-down in unpatrolled waters south of Sandon Point on Saturday morning. He died in Wollongong Hospital on Monday night. 

On Sunday, a 25-year-old rock fisherman drowned after slipping on rocks at a fishing spot at Little Beecroft Head in the Shoalhaven.