Rock fisherman drowned trying to save girlfriend

 EDITORIAL: More dead, where is the action

A rock fisherman who drowned trying to save his girlfriend is one of at least 10 anglers who have died in the past two years at the same  area on the Central Coast.

Police yesterday scaled down the search for a Chinese student, 20, who also jumped into the water to save the woman who was dragged into the water off the southern coast of Lake Macquarie on Friday night.

Tuggerah Lakes duty officer Inspector Chris Wellfare last night said it was considered unlikely the second man would have survived.

VIDEO: Peter Stoop

‘‘We’re going into a recovery and monitoring phase now,” he said.

‘‘It was very dangerous today because of the weather.

‘‘Today the Marine Area Command conducted a survivability exercise ... they found it was negligible he would have survived [in the water] taking into account all factors.

‘‘We haven’t been able to locate him on land and we’ve been very thorough.’’

Inspector Wellfare said patrols would continue today.

On Saturday morning the woman who originally fell off the rocks watched in horror as the body of her partner Huiqing Hua, 25, was pulled from the water.

She cried and sat wrapped in a blue blanket with three others who had been there when the two Chinese nationals were washed out to sea off Wybung Head.

As she wept, up to 10 men were seen fishing off the rocks, without lifejackets, in the same spot where tragedy had struck the evening before.

‘‘She is obviously highly distressed as you can understand,’’ Tuggerah Lakes police, Acting Inspector John Dooley, said.

Distraught friends huddled together on the headland for most of Saturday just above the rock platform which took Mr Hua and the student who is now feared dead.

The group, who police say were Chinese nationals living in western Sydney, had travelled up the coast on Friday for a fishing day trip.

Acting Inspector Dooley said none of them had been wearing lifejackets or appropriate footwear and they had no safety gear with them.

Surf Life Saving duty officer Matt Slattery, stood looking over the search zone and said he had lost count of the searches he had been called to in the same area. 

The only fisherman found alive in that time was wearing a lifejacket.

‘‘The only one that we’ve ever found alive, has been washed in and was wearing a lifejacket,’’ Mr Slattery said.

The Lake Macquarie coast is a deadly spot for rock fishers especially near Catherine Hill Bay and Moonee.

In 2012, three young people were swept to their deaths while rock fishing near Catherine Hill Bay.

The same spot claimed the lives of five anglers from Hong Kong in 2010.

Yet there were no multi-lingual warning signs about the dangers of rock fishing in the area.

Twenty people died rock fishing in NSW from July 2011 to May 2013, according to a NSW government discussion paper released in August last year.

The paper proposes the mandatory wearing of lifejackets for rock fishers to prevent future drownings.

Local fishermen say the stretch of coast is treacherous and catches many people off guard.

‘‘At that actual location, the people who go rock fishing aren’t prepared for the danger of the sport,’’ Peter Trenear, of Pelicans Wharf Fishing Tackle, said.

‘‘For the inexperienced, it can be life threatening.’’

Earlier reports:

UPDATE: Police have recovered the body of a fisherman who went missing off rocks at Wybung Head on the state’s Central Coast yesterday.

About 6.30pm Friday, a group of two women and four men from Sydney were fishing off rocks, when one of the women was swept into the water by a wave.

Two men from the group, aged 24 and 26, went in after her; however she was eventually carried back in by a wave.

The two men did not return and a search commenced.

Local police were called in and were assisted in their rescue effort by officers from the Marine Area Command, NSW Ambulance SCAT, Surf Lifesaving, Volunteer Rescuers and the Westpac helicopter.

Shortly before 9am Saturday, the body of a man was located off Wybung Head.

It has been taken for a post mortem and formal identification.

Meantime, the search for the other man will continue throughout the day.

PREVIOUSLY

TWO people who jumped into water to rescue their struggling mate are missing, feared drowned at an isolated and treacherous spot off the coast of southern Lake Macquarie.

In a tragic twist, the woman who initially fell into water at Wybung Head about 6.30pm was washed back onto the rocks by a wave, while his two friends were left struggling in the surf.

At least two rescue helicopters, a police marine area command vessel, a team of special casualty access team ambulance paramedics and a large contingent of Fire and Rescue NSW officers and police spent more than three hours  last night scouring the cliffs and water in the Wybung National Park. 

Tuggerah Lakes police Chief Inspector Tim Winmill said a call for help at 6.35pm indicated a woman had fallen into the water at Wybung Head, south of Frazer Park. As emergency services were being dispatched, police received another call that a number of friends had gone in to the water to help him, but had got into trouble themselves.

‘‘Upon arrival police located four persons who were out of the water and at this stage they are looking for two people who remain unaccounted for,’’ a police spokesman said at the scene last night. ‘‘We believe they went in to rescue a person who was washed off the rocks, the person who was washed off the rocks has then been washed back onto the rocks by a wave and the two people who went in originally to rescue the first person are now outstanding and the subject of the search.’’

He said the rescue was made difficult by the rough terrain and onset of the high-tide, which covered several walking trails into the area.

One female was located as far as 76 metres down the cliff. 

Police believe the group were from Sydney and were visiting the picturesque but treacherous spot over the long weekend. 

The NSW Ambulance helicopter and Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter were called off about 9pm but  the search continued on the ground and from the water well into the night.

Inspector Winmill said the Frazer Park coastline provided breathtaking views but had brought many people unstuck over the years.

As many as 11 people have been washed to their deaths from rocks at Flat Rock, Snapper Point and Frazer Park since 2005. 

EARLIER REPORT: Rescue in progress at Frazer Park

EMERGENCY services are searching for as many as six people who are struggling in water at Frazer Park on Friday night.

Tuggerah Lakes police Chief Inspector Tim Winmill said a ‘‘significant rescue operation’’ had been launched after emergency services received a call a man had fallen into the water in the Wybung National Park about 6.35pm.

The area is known as the Frazer Park blowhole and is known as a treacherous spot for rock fishermen and swimmers. 

Police said they received a call a short time later to say a number of other friends had entered the water to rescue the man, but had got into trouble themselves.

The number of people stuck in the water is unknown, with police reporting as many as six at one point.

Two helicopters, including the Hunter’s Westpac rescue helicopter service, ambulance special casualty access team paramedics, Fire and Rescue NSW and Tuggerah police are all assisting in the rescue effort.

Inspector Winmill said the area provided breathtaking views, but had brought many people unstuck over the years.

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