Officials under fire after tragedy

THE lawyer for ironman Saxon Bird's family has called for a royal commission into the running of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast.

As the search resumed for this morning for missing Sunshine Coast teenager Matt Barclay at Kurrawa, Christopher Branson, QC told reporters officials had 'learned nothing' from Bird's death in 2010 or that of teenage boat rower Robert Gatenby at the 1996 championships.

"It is a matter of national outrage and disgrace," he said.

"This event should not be held at Kurrawa.

"There are too many commercial conflicts.

"Safety is being put second to commercial interests."

He said officials should face criminal charges over the likely drowning of another competitor.

Parents of missing teen lifesaver Matt Barclay maintaining a heart-wrenching vigil on Kurrawa Beach as search continues for their boy

Mr Branson called for `manslaughter or gross negligence' charges against surf life saving officials.

It is feared that Maroochydore competitor Matthew Barclay, 14, will be the third teenager to die at the national titles.

Saxon's dad Phil Bird was too distressed to comment when contacted yesterday.

The suspected drowning brought back the horror of 2010 when his son died in cyclonic seas at Kurrawa during the ski leg of an under-19 ironman event.

Saxon, renowned as a strong swimmer, was knocked unconscious by a riderless ski just as officials, after numerous warnings, were about to call off his event.

Saxon's sister Arielle, who works for NSW surf lifesaving, rang her parents Phil and Dana late yesterday to let them know what was going on.

``I said, I can't believe this. I can't believe it has happened again,'' Arielle Bird said last night.

Straight away Arielle rang her parents Phil and Dana to tell them what she had been told - a young board paddler was missing in heavy surf at Kurrawa beach.

``I said `you are joking'. I was completely speechless. How could this happen again?''

``I rang mum and she told dad and they were the same as me, They couldn't believe it.

``I had always hoped Saxon would be the last one.''

Bird, who works for NSW Surf Lifesaving was due to fly to Queensland today to attend the annual event which attracts around 5000 surf lifesavers ranging from juniors to Masters.

Big names include Ky Hurst, Shannon and Caine Eckstein, Olympic kayak gold medallist Ken Wallace and former world ironman turner paddler Naomi Flood.

A competitor said the surf was `heavy' but not as big as the day Saxon Bird lost his life at the same carnival in 2010.

However the surf board competition had been moved due to conditions in its area.

Unconfirmed reports said the teenagers board was recovered with a ding in it, alerting officials he was missing, and that he had disappeared less than 30 minutes before the carnival was due to be called off for the day.

Officials under fire over tragedy

CONCERNS are being raised whether the organisers of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast should have cancelled the event.

Police hold grave fears for Sunshine Coast 14-year-old Matt Barclay, who failed to resurface after coming off his board at Kurrawa at 3.45pm yesterday.

While officials said the surf was not ideal, the swell was not as large as it was two years ago when Saxon Bird died after an accident on the same strip of beach.

Earlier yesterday, after a spate of injuries and mishaps, organisers moved the surfboat events to Coomera Lake.

Event referees had been meeting every hour to decide which events should go ahead.

One long-time Australian surf official, who asked not to be named, said he was furious about what happened.

"They cancelled reserve boat racing and they allow under-15s out there," the official said.

"It's just bloody wrong.

"These people need to be held to account."

The official said the conditions were not as bad as when Saxon Bird died but they were too tough for younger competitors.

"They were very testing," he said. "It is just so sad."



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