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A Previous Rock Fishing Tragedy


wazatherfisherman
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There is a well known Snapper spot at Curracurrang Bay in the Royal National Park that we used to fish when the conditions were right. By "right" it meant going during or immediately after a big southerly that had been blowing for at least three days. The bigger and rougher the swell, the better. Heavy rain also added to the best fishing conditions, albeit not at all comfortable to fish in. However, in these bad conditions for the fisher, catching a couple of Snapper was the reward and worth the long travel from the city

There are other spots that produce fish in huge seas, but this one was relatively safe from the sea, due to it being about 150 meters inland from the ocean and was high enough on the cliff and had the added protection of a large bay between the spot and the actual ocean front. Wasn't a day for fishing the rocks otherwise as a huge, thick groundswell was rolling in. From the high spot, you are looking towards the N/E in the direction of North Curracurrang rock platform which is about 7-800 meters away. 

In the pre-sun up light, we observed two figures on the cliff top in the far distance, they walked along the top of the cliff until almost directly above the fishing spot known as North Curra Point. I remember remarking to my two companions that they'd be turning back pretty quickly after having a look at the sea, as even from our far away vantage point, we could clearly see the largest swells were completely engulfing the fishing area, sometimes sending more than 3 meters of water over the platform. Sure enough, after having a brief look, the two figures retraced their tracks and disappeared from our view.

The access to North's platform has two completely different routes- one via a short track down about halfway along the southern side and the other via a steep but quite direct route down a clay and sandstone gully on the northern side, which would have been a really muddy and wet route down. Some time later we were both surprised and horrified to all of a sudden see the same two figures appear out on the end of North's platform, having obviously descended via the track on the gully/north side. We looked at each other in horror because only a few minutes earlier, the entire spot had been totally under water, regardless that it is pretty high out of the sea. We watched for a few minutes as they appeared then disappeared as they ran from swells and were out of our line of vision, then as the sun got a little higher, we were no longer able to see them in the rising morning sun, before again appearing out on the tip of the platform, obviously fishing.

More swells, more running and the sun was then hovering right in our line of vision and we could no longer see the end of the platform due to looking straight towards the sun.

About twenty minutes later, we heard what we initially thought was a cry coming from back inland towards where Curracurrang Creek flows into the bay, some 200 meters in from where we were. There were a few tents there when we walked in during the night and we thought the tents occupants were probably up and around. Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, we heard the same noise a couple more times, but it was pretty much impossible to tell either what the noise was or exactly where it was coming from, then all of a sudden with a momentary lapse in the noise of the ocean, we heard it again and this time it sounded like "HELP!"

I grabbed my mobile phone and made my way back along the cliff edge and back to where the tents were, adjacent to the creek. There were 3 teenage girls and a young guy making their way out to the entrance of the creek on the opposite side and they yelled out to me. On reaching them they asked if it was me calling for help, as they had also heard the cries. I said no, not me, but they had heard clearly the help cry, so we all walked out to the northern side entrance to the creek, staying up high, well away from the ocean.

As we got as far to the east as we could go, we heard the cry again and this time, it was close. We all thought the noise was coming from somewhere in the water, but due to the glare off the sea- which was completely white and foamy, we couldn't see anything. I was certain by this stage that it was someone in the water, but then a guy appeared coming towards us and waving his arms. He told us in broken English that his friend was washed off the point and was in the water. We managed to understand that they had been hit by one of those big swells and the younger guy had gone over the edge and down into the water. He said he had thrown the "circle" to him, which turned out to be the Angel Ring installed on North Curracurrang Point. He wasn't clear about whether the guy in the water had got hold of the ring, but I took it that he had, and we made haste back towards the point.

A couple of the girls had phones and tried to get an emergency call out, but to no avail. I told them to keep trying and followed the guy back towards where the younger fellow had gone in and decided to try and get up high on the cliff in order to possibly get phone reception. I can't remember what year it was, but it was when mobile phones were just switching from analogue to digital and I had recently bought a Nokia 3310 digital and was able to get an emergency call out- not on 000, it was either 111 or 112- I can't remember which, but definitely not 000. The operator put me through to the water police and the situation explained. They asked where we would be and said the Westpac Helicopter was already doing it's early morning coast flight- which was a daily occurrence along the coast- don't know if this still is the case re helicopter's patrolling each morning.

We reached the cliff top above the ledge (probably 60-70 meters above it) and with the sun now behind us started looking for the Angel Ring. A few minutes of looking and we spotted the Angel Ring a long way to the south and well out past the entrance to the bay, it was way too far to be able to tell if there was anyone hanging onto it as it was probably more than 800 meters from the spot he'd thrown it in and only really visible due to it being orange in a sea that was completely white within a couple of hundred meters of the rocks.

After spotting the ring, the guy became a little less anxious and we sat on the cliff top while he tried to explain to me what had happened. On arrival, they had had a look off where we were now sitting and the younger guy decided it was OK to go down. After getting there via the north and slightly more protected side, they arrived to find the sea much bigger than they thought. Instead of turning around and going home, they decided to just fish a "little bit" before going and were only there a few minutes when a set of the big swells we'd witnessed from our high spot had come in. The younger guy was washed over by the backwash from the swell and the older guy washed higher up into the base of the cliff, but stayed there after the water receded.

He then managed to convey that he wasn't sure if his companion had managed to get hold of the Angel Ring as he hadn't been able to get anywhere near the edge to look, due to repeated sets of waves crashing over the point. I made the regretful remark of "why did you come here today?"- "it's so dangerous"- he replied "come here many times, many times- never like this before, never like this" and just didn't understand. It was "calm, calm, this place- always calm, never like this"- I wished I hadn't asked such a stupid question.

He became really distressed again and I had to take him away from the cliff edge because I thought at one point he was going over in distress. Then my phone rang and it was the Westpac Helicopter pilot who was approaching from the north, he asked me to put my left arm in the air and point seawards with the right, which I did so he could ID us. He then said to point with both arms together in the direction we thought the guy in the water was. We could still just see the Angel Ring in the far distance and pointed arms towards it. The pilot added that the police would be arriving by land shortly, before starting to head off in the direction of where we indicated.

For about 1 minute both of us on the cliff top were smiling and thinking everything was going to be alright, but the helicopter only flew about 100 meters away before turning and coming back a bit, then a rescuer was being quickly lowered on a cable below the helicopter. The other guy was jubilant, thinking that they had found his mate, but I knew that as he wasn't visible to us, it wasn't going to be good. The swell was that large that the helicopter had to rise up a couple of times while the rescue diver was in the water and when the cable was winched up revealing two people coming up, I tried not to let the other guy know what I was realising. The helicopter then rang me back and the pilot asked me if I was next of kin, my heart sank as I said no- why? He replied they were going to Sutherland hospital and the police would be with us in a couple of minutes.

Trying to hide what I'd just learned from the pilot was one of the hardest things I've ever done and I was relieved to see 3 uniformed police approaching from above us on the headland fire trail where they'd parked two vehicles.  The older guy still hadn't realised his friend had passed away and as the police approached I motioned best I could that he wasn't yet aware. The senior constable in charge nodded he understood and then we had a brief chat before he declared they would go down with the guy to retrieve their gear. 

I immediately objected to them going down and tried in every way possible to stop them, arguing they had long pants on and police boots, which were totally unsuitable for hurrying over wet rocks. The senior officer told me my concerns were duly noted, but they would be fine and it was necessary to collect the gear. I couldn't come up with anything to prevent them going and they left me giving my details to the officer who remained up top. I did however insist that he get back in touch with the helicopter, as in my opinion, there were now 4 people at serious risk. They left via the gully on the south side to commence the walk out to the point and I then left to return to where my companions were still fishing.

The next night I got a call from the water police saying they were going to come and interview me about what had happened and would be over the next night. The next part of this story was related to me by the water police when they came to my place.

Firstly, when the officer arrived at my place he was visibly shaken. He had just returned from returning the deceased fisherman's belongings to his family. In respect of their privacy, I won't relate other than to say it was a tragic scene at the family home, with much distressing sorrow.

The officer stayed with me for several hours and many cups of coffee, firstly getting my sequence of events and observations, before telling me what happened after I'd left them at the cliff top. The police needed to establish why anyone would be rock fishing when huge swells were hitting the coast.

After descending from the cliff to a level providing access to move around the side of the headland, the two male and one female officer managed with some difficulty to reach the fisherman's gear, which was still where they'd left it. The gear was packed, scene viewed and noted. Before they were able to leave, they had to take refuge for a time, while multiple sets of huge swells again engulfed the platform, blocking off their exit temporarily.

When they deemed it safe enough to leave, they did so quickly and got away from the point and back onto the higher ledges to commence the return to the gully accessing the cliff top. Unfortunately, before reaching safety, another series of giant swells swept over the platform and continued on along the ledges they were on. Nowhere to get out of the way or hold onto, the 3 officers and the fisherman were swept off their feet and travelled a short distance along the ledge, before getting caught in the water-flow and washed towards the edge of the long south facing area. The young police woman -who wasn't very tall- nearly went over the edge and apparently only the bravery of the senior officer who managed to reach her before she tumbled over with the water flow saved her from going in. It so easily could have been an even worse tragedy.

While talking to the officer at home that night, we talked about possible strategy for preventing incidents from happening, but each time one of us came up with an idea, the other came up with different reason/s why none of our ideas - mine from a fisherman's perspective, his from a rescuers- would really make a great deal of difference, especially in the case of what had just happened. The fishermen, although regular users of the location, just didn't have the grasp of the situation they went into and it then became similar to the rescuers, who although obliged to retrieve belongings, had training and courage, were still overwhelmed by a larger (than they expected) swell.

One of my suggestions was to have signage in the Park warning of danger before even getting to the coast, but the water police made the point that who would be responsible if the conditions changed before the signs were updated or someone was injured after it had been deemed OK to go. If there were no signs did that also mean it was "safe" 

There have been many suggestions over a long period of time in regard to how to approach the problem, such as making it mandatory to carry your own safety gear, lifejackets, be able to swim, join a fishing club, put up signs, do a fishing safety course/certificate, exclude areas where multiple fatalities have occurred. These and many others all have merit in different ways, but it really boils down to the individual where safety is concerned.

Although not knowing the other two fishermen, the events of that day have never left me and the only advice I can really offer is to watch the ocean for a full 20 minutes before deciding whether or not to go and if you have to "toss up" going or not then take that as a don't go, there's always next week.

 

 

 

 

 

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What a harrowing tale ! Sounds like a spot we used to call the gulf at curracarrang .

Sorry to hear that you had to go though that ordeal - definitely something I am glad I have never had to deal with .

Can’t say I agree with the cops going down to get the fishing gear back - not worth the risk imho but that being said leaving it there could act like a lure drawing some one down there to their peril.

I have recently been thinking how we can educate some of these fishos as to the dangers of rock fishing and I think maybe some of the recreational fishing licence fees ( which has now become a slush fund for the pollies ) could be used to make some tv and radio ads or maybe make up some pamphlets to distribute through Schools and  various religious venues etc .

When i walk in the door of a tackle shop  big or small i would like to see a rack full of free  info pamphlets staring me in the face instead of what they are trying to flog to you -something like the guides you can get from the department of primary industries that have a map , a tide chart and a warning of any dangers at that location etc etc . They could have these printed in a couple of languages - like most reasonable instruction manuals are . The language barrier shouldn’t be used as an excuse in this situation .

At least I could see my licence fee doing something useful !

The mandating of wearing a life jacket hasn’t done much to improve the situation and I doubt anyone is even policing this . The government as usual just turned this into something they can raise revenue from without having to spend a cent on it .

 

 

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A hard story to read Wazza, thanks for sharing.

Part of my father in law's duties as a ranger/diver was body recovery from rock fishing accidents and the memories implanted in his brain haunted him 'till the day he died.

I don't know what the answer is, but in many of the recent events I believe PFD's would have gone a long way to saving those that were washed in.

 

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11 hours ago, XD351 said:

What a harrowing tale ! Sounds like a spot we used to call the gulf at curracarrang .

Sorry to hear that you had to go though that ordeal - definitely something I am glad I have never had to deal with .

Can’t say I agree with the cops going down to get the fishing gear back - not worth the risk imho but that being said leaving it there could act like a lure drawing some one down there to their peril.

I have recently been thinking how we can educate some of these fishos as to the dangers of rock fishing and I think maybe some of the recreational fishing licence fees ( which has now become a slush fund for the pollies ) could be used to make some tv and radio ads or maybe make up some pamphlets to distribute through Schools and  various religious venues etc .

When i walk in the door of a tackle shop  big or small i would like to see a rack full of free  info pamphlets staring me in the face instead of what they are trying to flog to you -something like the guides you can get from the department of primary industries that have a map , a tide chart and a warning of any dangers at that location etc etc . They could have these printed in a couple of languages - like most reasonable instruction manuals are . The language barrier shouldn’t be used as an excuse in this situation .

At least I could see my licence fee doing something useful !

The mandating of wearing a life jacket hasn’t done much to improve the situation and I doubt anyone is even policing this . The government as usual just turned this into something they can raise revenue from without having to spend a cent on it .

 

 

G'day mate I fished the gulf plenty of times until going out front with the sounder on and realising what those giant Kings were busting us off on. Also one of the 4 most dangerous spots in terms of lives lost, not sure if it's still the case.

Police had to go down as it could have been a crime scene- considering the conditions. Knew it was a bad idea, but they went regardless.

Don't think there really is an answer to people getting washed in sadly.

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Thanks Blackfish what I didn't say in the story was that the choice of clothing worn by the deceased also lead to his demise. He was weighed down by several pairs of track suit pants and three different bum bags which contributed to pulling him under. Light clothing and shorts are a must if fishing the rocks

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Another one of your stories Waza.

Most of the drowning tragedies are from people of non-english speaking backgrounds - rock fishing and beach swimming. You can install signs, but many will not read them. 

As I have stated before, the sea is very changeable from day to day, and on a big swell day the waves will move around 10 to 20 tonne boulders, so there is power in the waves. LIke trying to head butt a loaded Mack truck heading for you at high speed. Many people do not understand the ocean power, and will not until they are at the point of no return.

Hill 60 will continue to have drownings unless the place is fenced off, but people will climb the fences regardless, so that will not work there or elsewhere. 

Just recently at Kurnell, I watched fishos of Asian backgrounds standing on the top of the cliffs, on a thin sheet of rock, casting away to the water a f***ing long way below.

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Just drifting off track a tiny bit, I was just outside with my binoculars looking at a school of fish, and had a look at Port Kembla where a few people have lost their life recently, it's a rubbish day, rain, southerly to SE wind and a quite large swell, I could see three people fishing that same spot....again! Sorry to side track, but it kind of fitted with your story. Recovering people in cases like yours is hard to get over, you can't help but think "what if" 

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48 minutes ago, Yowie said:

Another one of your stories Waza.

Most of the drowning tragedies are from people of non-english speaking backgrounds - rock fishing and beach swimming. You can install signs, but many will not read them. 

As I have stated before, the sea is very changeable from day to day, and on a big swell day the waves will move around 10 to 20 tonne boulders, so there is power in the waves. LIke trying to head butt a loaded Mack truck heading for you at high speed. Many people do not understand the ocean power, and will not until they are at the point of no return.

Hill 60 will continue to have drownings unless the place is fenced off, but people will climb the fences regardless, so that will not work there or elsewhere. 

Just recently at Kurnell, I watched fishos of Asian backgrounds standing on the top of the cliffs, on a thin sheet of rock, casting away to the water a f***ing long way below.

Hi Yowie I'm also guilty of fishing off high, thin ledges a few times. Only after going out in the boat and looking at the spot from the water did we realise the ledge that 8 of us were on one night was far less than a foot thick

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5 minutes ago, noelm said:

Just drifting off track a tiny bit, I was just outside with my binoculars looking at a school of fish, and had a look at Port Kembla where a few people have lost their life recently, it's a rubbish day, rain, southerly to SE wind and a quite large swell, I could see three people fishing that same spot....again! Sorry to side track, but it kind of fitted with your story. Recovering people in cases like yours is hard to get over, you can't help but think "what if" 

After all the publicity lately about that particular location, it really makes you wonder. The emergency services folk must be really frustrated at users seemingly lack of common sense. No amount of signs etc would make a difference it seems.

Hope they don't have to rescue anyone else today (or other days)

 

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1 hour ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Yowie I'm also guilty of fishing off high, thin ledges a few times. Only after going out in the boat and looking at the spot from the water did we realise the ledge that 8 of us were on one night was far less than a foot thick

Only did that once. Looked under the ledge and thought *&^#, nothing under me.¬†ūü§™

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