CLARE Lannen was enjoying a picnic lunch at popular Hunter swimming hole Ladies Well when she kicked off a shoe and dipped her toe in the water.
What happened next was a “freak accident” that claimed the loving mother-of-three’s life on Monday, which was her eldest son’s 21st birthday. Clare, 44, lost her balance and fell forward into the water, landing on her knees.
The Allyn River’s current was strong from recent rainfall and the rocks slippery.
Within “seconds” she was pulled down a waterfall, falling three metres.
Clare was then thrown around in a “whirlpool” of water, gasping for air while being dragged up and down. Her father, Bob Richardson, immediately ran and jumped in to try to save her.
“When I got to her in the water I was being pulled down by this whirlpool effect,” he said. “It was sucking me down and I could see I was pulling her down so I let her go and struggled to get to the top myself.
“That’s when another young man dived in and dragged her to the shore.’’
With the help of others who had seen what happened, Mr Richardson carried out CPR for about 40 minutes while the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and an ambulance were en-route to the scene, via Upper Allyn in the Chichester State Forest.
But nothing more could be done to save his eldest daughter who was pronounced dead when emergency services arrived.
On Tuesday Bob and his wife Margaret – who was also present at the tragic accident – paid tribute to their “happy” and “bubbly” daughter, who lived within walking distance to them at Bolwarra Heights.
Mrs Richardson said the three of them had gone to Ladies Well for a picnic lunch because they loved caravanning and were planning to spend a weekend there on a camping trip.
“It was just a terrible, unlucky accident,” she said.
“One minute you have her and she’s so happy then the next minute she’s gone.
“Clare wasn’t strong in the chest, her lungs weren’t well developed and she’d had pneumonia in the past.
“It was just too late when we got her out.’’
Mrs Richardson said Clare’s husband of more than 20 years, Peter, had been in China for his work as an engineer. He was desperately trying to get home to be with the couple’s three children: Jacob, 21, Bella, 19 and Hugh, 13.
“Jacob turned 21 yesterday when the accident happened,” she said. “We’d had a lovely get-together with close family on Sunday for his birthday – and Jacob said he’s really pleased we all had that time together.”
Mr Richardson said his daughter was an ‘‘amazing mother who absolutely loved her children.
“She had a beautiful family and lovely kids,’’ he said.
“I think she was a born mother, she would always look after her sister’s three children and loved them as much as she loved her own.”
Mrs Lannen was a talented hairdresser who set up her own salon, based out of her home, four years ago.
“She started hairdressing when she left school at the age of 16,” said Mrs Richardson, a retired hairdresser. “She was very passionate about her hairdressing and her clients who became her friends.
‘‘Everybody loved Clare, she was straight-talking and straight to the point. She was also very giving – she’d give you the shirt off her back.’’
Mrs Richardson said her “extremely close’’ family would support one another through the difficult time: “She’s going to be really badly missed.’’