Lifeguards 'could have prevented drowning'

LIFEGUARDS on popular Kingscliff beach 12 months ago would have prevented James Peter Harris, who is believed to have drowned, from even going into the water, a coroner's inquest into the death was told yesterday.

Secretary-treasurer of the%volunteer Tweed Coast Sea%Rescue squad Roger McLeod said a lifeguard patrol would have%prevented Mr Harris, 45, and his brother George from swimming on Wednesday, May 9, last year.

The court was told that, at the time the water, although relatively calm, was reddish-brown and%murky, with a lot of weed.

The beach was patrolled by neither volunteer surf lifesavers nor paid lifeguards, which Tweed Shire Council only employs over peak Christmas/New Year and Easter holiday periods.

The hearing in Murwillumbah Court House before coroner Jeff Linden is inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death, but was told there is no question as to how and when it happened.

It was told Mr Harris disappeared from sight as his brother George Harris used a mobile phone obtained from someone else on the beach to make a call to emergency services.

His body was found two days later near Dreamtime Beach on Fingal Head, about five to six kilometres away.

Mr McLeod said "there may have been a chance" Mr Harris's life "may have been saved" if lifeguards had been based about 500 metres away at Kingscliff's Cudgen Headland Surf Life Saving Club due to a quicker response time to the emergency.

He said if professional lifeguards had been posted on the beach one would probably have been near the surf club and an-%other on mobile patrol.

"It is very likely that a mobile patrol would have been in that area," Mr McLeod said.

"Those lifeguards," he added, "would have prevented these gentlemen going in the water."

Mr McLeod said the beach was dangerous and subject to "flash rips" even when it seemed calm.

He believed warning signs should be posted on beach access points telling of the danger and advising the beach was unpatrolled.

Kingscliff police sergeant Mark Garner told the court none of the car parks or 15 access points along the beach had warning signs, and the area where Mr Harris disappeared, opposite Kingscliff Police Station, was renowned for rips "from time to time".

Coroner Mr Linden said it seemed if a warning sign was present "people could make up their own mind" about swimming, but they "at least would be given a warning".

Tweed Shire Council "open space officer" Grahame Burton said the council had been considering a signage proposal for 12 months.

Asked by Mr Linden why it took so long, he said the council had first undertaken an audit of all beaches, gone through a process of formalising beach names and would soon meet with other shire councils to try to develop consistent signs.

Barrister Simon Glascott for Tweed Shire Council was given until May 28 to provide a written submission from the council to the inquest, with a further date for a formal finding and recommendations then to be set.



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