Fri, Mar 30, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Teenaged surf lifesaver dies at Australian event


Surf rescue teams search for missing 14-year-old Matt Barclay yesterday off Kurrawa beach on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Photo: EPA

A second competitor in three years has died at the same beach during the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, sparking allegations yesterday that organizers ignored safety recommendations.

Matthew Barclay, 14, disappeared when he came off his board on Wednesday during an under-15 competition at Kurrawa beach on the Gold Coast. His body was found yesterday after a massive search, but the cause of death has not yet been announced.

Barclay’s death comes after teenager Saxon Bird drowned in treacherous conditions during the same carnival at the same beach in 2010 and is the third casualty at the event since 1996.

Lawyer Chris Branson, who represented Bird’s family at an inquest into his death, said it was clear that governing body Surf Life Saving Australia had failed again, calling Barclay’s death “a scandal of monumental proportions.”

“They’ve learnt nothing from Saxon Bird’s death, they’ve learnt nothing from Robert Gatenby’s death, and the essential feature is that it [the championships] should not be held here at Kurrawa at all — ever, ever, ever,” he told ABC radio.

He claimed commercial reasons were behind the event being held again at a beach which offers good facilities and accommodation, but where a life had already been lost.

“There’s about A$15 million [US$15.5 million] worth of sponsorship for these championships ... and unfortunately there’s a bureaucracy of people that run this carnival now, who essentially are not competitors at an elite level,” Branson said.

A key recommendation from the coronial inquest that followed Bird’s death was for Surf Life Saving Australia to select a suitable flotation vest for competitors, but this has not yet been implemented.

The organization’s chief executive, Brett Williamson, said they did all they could to ensure competitors’ safety.

“Certainly the information that we were looking at on a regular ongoing basis was that surf conditions were not large,” he told reporters, though he conceded that the floatation device had yet to be selected.

“One of the recommendations from the coronial inquiry last year was for Surf Life Saving to continue to work with designers of safety vest flotation devices,” he said. “That has been going and underway and it’s just too early to stipulate a particular brand or type.”

The annual championship, the largest event of its type in the world, attracts about 10,000 surf lifesavers competing in a range of disciplines in the water and on the sand.

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