Woolgoolga Surf Life Saving Club's Les Pepper with a drone to be flown off Mullaway headland looking for signs of the missing swimmer.
Woolgoolga Surf Life Saving Club's Les Pepper with a drone to be flown off Mullaway headland looking for signs of the missing swimmer. Trevor Veale

Witness recalls moment man was swept out to sea

IN THE flash of an eye, tragedy unfolded on Mullaway beach as locals scrambled to try and find the missing swimmer while raising the alarm.

On a routine check of the surf, a regular local surfer said he noticed two people in trouble in the surf around 5.30pm.

He instantly rang 000 while keeping an eye on them, as they were getting washed onto the rocks.

"A man was being swept out in the rip and his friend was trying to help him," the witness said.

The incident took place on the north-easterly end of the rocks on Mullaway Beach.

"The friend was able to get quite close to the man in trouble, but had to come in because he was getting too exhausted," the man said.

While on the phone to 000, he lost sight on the missing man, who is understood to be a 22-year-old on a backpacking trip in Australia.

When emergency services arrived, Mullaway locals ran down to the beach with boards to join in the search on the rocks and headland.

One man headed out on his malibu to check the surf and warn a group of foreigners from entering the same rip.

Maia Regler commented on Facebook her husband was the man on the board.

"My husband ran home for a Malibu and searched the water for 45 minutes to no avail," she said. 

Maia said her husband also came off his board, but thanks to local knowledge and his surf abilities, he knew how to get back safely to shore.

"He had to let the other foreigners know they couldn't swim in that spot, it is the most dangerous rip on the beach. Only to watch another from the same group venture into the same rip immediately after my husband went in on a board.

"Locals gathered telling that person to get out of the water, only for them to arrogantly remark, 'it's OK if you're a capable swimmer'.

She said this rescue attempt was the second beach emergency her husband has been involved in over the past two months.

Emergency service crews, including Marine Rescue volunteers boats, the Westpac Rescue Lifesaver helicopter and surf lifesavers on jetski's searched until dark.

The recovery operation resumed at first light this morning.



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