Victim’s family: ‘We will pay for lifebuoys ourselves’
RYAN Martin's family was told almost two years ago his drowning at a treacherous Fingal Head beach would result in the installation of flotation devices at the site.
It has yet to happen and after another tragedy at the beach yesterday, they're so frustrated they've offered to pay for the lifebuoys themselves.
"We need local and state governments to act," said Josh Martin, whose 35-year-old brother Ryan Martin drowned a hero during the dramatic rescue of seven-year-old Rihanna Milabo on Good Friday 2016.
"It is a simple measure already used on many NSW headlands that will save lives. We will even put up the funding to pay for it. How many more lives will be lost until they do?
"The community want action, having taken it into their own hands to place flotation devices on the headland such as a chopped-up bodyboard after Ryan gave his life saving little Rihanna.
"But this has been removed and we now have another tragedy that may have been prevented if there had been a flotation device to throw to the young man."
Emergency services were forced to call off their search last night for a 25-year-old backpacker who went missing while swimming south of Fingal headland.
The search will resume this morning, with his death the fourth at the unpatrolled beach since October 2015.
Tweed MP Geoff Provest said lifebuoys that were supposed to be installed on the headland by "the peak summer period" had been held up by council processes.
"Obviously we have been hoping to get these lifebuoys out as soon as possible because there have been three incidents in the spot already, but it was held up by processes like public liability insurance and the fact it is a significant Aboriginal site," he said.
While Mr Provest said lifebuoys would now be installed in four weeks, Fingal locals have expressed dismay at the bureaucratic processes that have delayed their arrival.
Steve Kudzius, who has suffered psychological trauma since playing vital roles in the bids to save both Ryan and New Zealander Aggie Auelua less than six months earlier, said he spent more than a year fighting for government approval to install flotation devices on Fingal Headland.
"I just lost drive in the end because you were hitting your head against the wall," he said.
"We just wanted three 'angel rings' on the headland - one on each end and a central one - but I kept getting handballed around to different people and no one would ever make a decision.
"It was a never-ending circle and I just kept getting the run-around … I had the funding to install and maintain them, just not the permission to put them in.
"I firmly believe lives could have been saved if there was something that floats on the headland."
Mr Kudzius, who has lived at Fingal for three decades, said the amount of tourists swimming at Dreamtime Beach had increased markedly in recent years.
"We've spent all our lives protecting the beaches here and we've never had the amount of people we've got coming through here now," he said.
"Dreamtime is advertised as one of the seven secret beaches on backpacker websites. It's (promoted) everywhere so we're getting a huge influx of people but it's so dangerous.
"We're trying to work out (how to keep them safe) on our own. We're having another meeting soon to talk about what we can do."
Mr Provest last year said the installation of flotation devices had been delayed because of a disagreement over which government body would be responsible if someone hurt themselves on them.
Yesterday he said the device would be a life preserver with a rope that was only useful for beach swimmers.
"It can't help people who jump off the rocks because that water will pound you against the rocks," he said.
"Lifebuoys won't resolve reckless behaviour. I can't stress to people enough to be cautious in that area."
A FAMILY'S PLEA
"We're devastated to hear of the loss of another life at Fingal and heartbroken for the young man's family.
"That headland is an extremely dangerous place. It's taken three lives in little more than two years - now four - and this would be higher if not for the brave actions of surf lifesavers and heroic bystanders like my brother Ryan.
"It is not accessible for most bystanders to help due to the rock cliffs, which is why there are calls from the public and outlined by Tweed MP Geoff Provest in October last year for flotation rings to be installed to prevent further tragedies.
"This has still not occurred. The community want action, having taken it into their own hands to place flotation devices on the headland such as a chopped-up bodyboard after Ryan gave his life saving little Rihanna.
"But this has been removed and we now have another tragedy that may have been prevented if there had been a flotation device to throw to the young man.
"It is a simple measure already used on many NSW headlands that will save lives. We will even put up the funding to pay for it.
"We need local and state governments to act. How many more lives will be lost until they do?"
Josh Martin, the brother of Ryan Martin who drowned saving a seven-year-old girl at Fingal Head in 2016.