Teen tried to save 'beautiful boy' who died in surf

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Teen tried to save 'beautiful boy' who died in surf
« on: March 29, 2012, 09:36:49 pm »
30 Mar, 2012 09:44 AM

A fellow competitor spotted teenage lifesaver Matthew Barclay floating unconscious in the water seconds before he disappeared beneath the pounding waves at the notorious Gold Coast beach where he drowned.

But the unrelenting surf at Kurrawa beach, where the Surf Life Saving Australia Championships are held, was so rough neither the competitor nor the rescue jet ski he signalled for help could reach Matthew in time to save him.

Matthew's body was recovered from the water yesterday, 1.5 kilometres from the competition zone, leaving the surf lifesaving community mourning a future champion and a "beautiful boy".

One competitor said Matthew's board had washed ashore and had a dent where it might have hit his head. Others believed he might have been in a collision.

Keegan Street of Cronulla Surf Club was competing in the same under-15s board relay race as Matthew when he saw the 14-year-old, from Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club, unconscious in the water.

Keegan frantically signalled to a rescue jet ski for help and tried himself to reach Matthew, Cronulla team manager Kevin Neilson told brisbanetimes.com.au today.

"But Keegan couldn't reach him," Mr Neilson said.

"He was on the board trying to get to him, but the waves were just coming in too fast.

"The jet ski had to turn around, because of the waves also."

Mr Neilson's recollection of Wednesday's surf conditions at Kurrawa, challenges reports from SLSA officials that they were suitable for the young competitors.

He said Keegan was distraught and had been interviewed by police several times, but intended to compete today.

Matthew’s fellow clubmates held a vigil at the Broadbeach Surf Club last night for their lost friend, with a video link to their Maroochydore club.

And as hope faded his son would be found alive, Matthew’s father Steve Barclay was valiant late on Wednesday night, telling about 100 Maroochydore club members to ‘‘hang in there’’.

Club president Tim Ryan told the Sunshine Coast Daily Mr Barclay stood on a rescue quad bike to address Matthew’s distraught teammates huddled under tents on Kurrawa beach.

"He was just telling the kids to stay strong, to believe," Mr Ryan said.

"It was just a beautiful speech."

Mr Ryan said Mr Barclay had helped the club unite in its darkest hour, despite his own grief.

"[Steve] has been really strong. I was just amazed by him,’’ he said.

Last night, the SLSA announced that the championship, known as The Aussies, would resume today. But the competition has been moved to North Kirra beach, about 20 kilometres south of Kurrawa on the Gold Coast.

Matthew's death prompted a national outcry about sending youths into rough surf with little protection and raised questions about why Surf Life Saving Australia held the competition on the deadly stretch of beach.

In 2010 a teen ironman, Saxon Bird, drowned in wild seas. In 1996, Robert Gatenby, 15 - a member of Kurrawa's under-18 boat crew - drowned.

Saxon's father Phil Bird said he was angry another teenager had lost his life competing.

"We just feel so helpless that we haven't been able to stop it happening again," he told ABC Radio.

"It's painful, it's infuriating. It's so preventable, same as Saxon and Robert's deaths, they were preventable. I'm just devastated for his parents that they now have to go through this."

Mr Bird said he doubted officials had heeded the lessons from his son's death.

"They have ignored the fact that there was substantial risk, as evidenced by them cancelling the boats earlier on in the day," he said.

"If it's too dangerous for the boats, how could it possibly be not too dangerous for 15 and 14 and 13 year old girls and boys?"

Bird died after he was knocked unconscious by a surf ski in treacherous conditions and drowned.

After an inquiry into Bird's death, Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes was scathing of official's decision at the time to carry on with competition despite the wild seas.

He recommended high visibility floatation devices and helmets be made compulsory for all competitors, but neither safety measure has been fully implemented.
Some surf lifesavers criticised the safety recommendations, with an ironwoman, Kristen Askew, calling them "absolutely ridiculous" and suggesting they could cause more injuries.

The Bird family's lawyer, Chris Branson QC, called yesterday for a Royal Commission on the organisation. He planned to personally lobby politicians until that happened.

Surf Life Saving Australia chief executive Brett Williamson said Kurrawa was a "proven beach" with infrastructure and long-term arrangements, but conceded that surf lifesaving officials would have to review its use in future national titles.

Mr Williamson said helmets and flotation vests, recommended by the coroner, were expected to be distributed for competitions next season.

However long time Ironman Grant Kenny, whose son is competing in this year's championships, said he had no safety concerns.

"My son was out there along with a lot of his friends and you know he and his friends were in the water for about an hour and a half afterwards searching for Matthew," he told ABC Radio.

"Not once did I ever have a concern for his safety or did he have a concern for his safety and I am not aware - and I've asked the question of the other children in the same age group, the under-15s where Matt was competing, and none of those competitors nor their parents had any concerns either."

Andrew Short, of the University of Sydney's school of geosciences, who has prepared a safety audit of Australian beaches, said Kurrawa was not especially dangerous.

"Kurrawa has a hazard rating of six out of 10. It's compatible to Manly or Bondi," he said. "Of course, like all beaches, danger increases under certain conditions. But I'm unaware of the circumstances on Wednesday that would have required extra caution."

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