Coroner’s findings released on Encounter Bay drownings

Deputy state coroner Anthony Schapel has handed down his findings on an inquest into the drownings of three men in south coast waters. He is pictured at Petrel Cove March 10.A decision about the future of twoEncounter Bay beaches that have claimed three livesin as many years has been placed in the Victor Harborcouncil’s hands.
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It follows the findings of a coronial inquest intothe drownings of men at Depledge Beach and PetrelCove.

The inquest, that took place over six days in March- led by state deputy coroner Anthony Schapel -investigated the drowning deaths of David RussellGadd, Kamran Bimal Gujari and Nasir Ali Anwari.

Mr Gadd, 28, of Encounter Bay drowned atDepledge Beach on February 9, 2012.Mr Gujari, 19, from Seaton disappeared fromPetrel Cove Beach on April 25, 2014. His body wasnever found.

Mr Anwari, 18, from Paralowie drowned at PetrelCove on December 24, 2014.

Mr Schapel handed down his findings andrecommendations on April 2.

On the matter of closing the beach Mr Schapel saidit “had troubled the court considerably” and it “isclearly a matter that the council has to consider anddecide for itself”.

He said “having considered the matter carefully”the court was not prepared to make arecommendation on closing the beaches, if anenforceable ban of swimming at the beaches shouldbe imposed, or if the stairwell to Petrel Cove shouldbe removed.

“The Victor Harbor Council has indicated a beliefthat public sentiment is not favourably disposedtoward either of those measures,” he said.

“On the other hand, closure of the beaches is ameasure that would be strongly supported by thefamilies of Mr Gujari and Mr Anwari.”

He also spoke of the “unintended adverseconsequences” of closing or banning swimming atthe beaches, which might send swimmers to Parsonsand Waitpinga, which have a higher hazard rating andare “significantly more distant in terms of the abilityof emergency services to attend those locationsquickly”.

At the conclusion of the inquest on March 19, MrSchapel recommended to council that it immediatelyinstall signs at the beach to reference drowningdeaths and that swimming is not advised.

These calls were acted upon by council, butcouncil suggests that action and investigation on thefinal recommendations will take longer.

Victor Harbor CEO Graeme Maxwell told TheTimes “the recommendations within the coroner’sfinal findings are more extensive and complex innature and require further investigation, consultationand consideration by council before action is taken”.

Mr Maxwell said a report relating to the coroner’sfindings and recommendations will be presented tocouncil at its April or May meeting.

“The report will seek direction from the councilregarding the recommendations, and will alsoincorporate a draft action plan for consideration,” hesaid.

“It is really important for the council to establishwho is responsible for each of the recommendationsbefore making a decision on the way forward.

“The release of the inquest findings is also a timelyreminder for people to be aware of dangers in theirsurroundings, take note of warning signs and exercisecaution where necessary.”

The deputy coroner’s recommendations weredirected to the Victor Harbor council, Surf LifeSaving SA, SA Police, and state and federalgovernments.

His other recommendations called for theplacement of more signage, including in the sheltersat the western end of the Petrel Cove car park and onthe heritage trail that descends onto Depledge Beach;that emergency floatation devices such as buoys areavailable; and a surf lifesaving rescue centre on thesouth coast be established.

Mr Schapel also wants an Emergency ResponseBeacon System at Petrel Cove – a two-way radiosystem that connects directly to emergency services;and a survey of mobile phone coverage undertaken atthe beaches.

Rounding out his calls, MrSchapel asked for an examination ofwhether a rescue helicopter shouldbe stationed at Goolwa Airport, andthat a public education campaign runbefore the next swimming seasonexplaining how danger can beavoided at certain beaches.

The inquest began on March 6 andwas held in Victor Harbor on March10 and 11. The inquest heardevidence from South Australian SurfLife Saving services manager ShaneDaw, witnesses of the drownings,friends of the victims, members ofSAPOL’s Water Operations Unit,and Victor Harbor council’s managerof environment and recreation BrianDoman.

City of Victor Harbor mayorGraham Philp said the coroner’sinquest was an initiative of councilafter the drownings, and council willinvestigate the results from therecommendations and consult withSurf Life Saving SA and the SeaRescue Squadron.

What the inquestfound out about thevictims

Mr Schapel said in each case theyoung men appeared to “haveencountered difficulties”, and “thensuccumbed to powerful currents inthe waters”.

Cynthia Clarke, Mr Gadd’smother, told the court her son couldswim, but was not a “strongswimmer”.

According to the statement ofKamran’s father, Kasem Gujari,Kamran did not particularly likeswimming. Mr Gujari had neverknown his son to swim. He saidKamran had never taken anyswimming lessons.

Mr Schapel said it is believed thatMr Anwari had not experiencedaccess to the sea in Afghanistan,which is a land-locked country, norin Pakistan – where he lived until2013.

He had also not taken part in wateractivities, water sports or undertakenformal swimming lessons.

Mr Schapel said the court hasconcluded that all three deceasedpersons died from drowning as aresult of being caught in rips situatedat the respective beaches, and “ineach case each man did not have afull appreciation of the dangers thatwere posed by swimming at thesebeaches”.

He said in the case of Mr Gadd,there were no warning signs atDepledge Beach which may havealerted him to the dangers ofswimming, and may have preventedhis death if appropriate signage wasin place.

In respect of Mr Gujari and MrAnwari’s deaths, “the court hasconcluded that they entered thewater at Petrel Cove either havingignored the information depicted onsignage erected at that beach or notfully appreciating the dangers thatwere described on that signage. Tomy mind, the former scenario is themore likely in each case,” he said.

Mr Schapel said that “there is nosuggestion in any of the three casesthat emergency services were notappropriately deployed.”

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