‘He didn’t realise the hazard’: the household grieving a misplaced son and their push to slash Australia’s drowning deaths

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‘He didn’t realise the hazard’: the household grieving a misplaced son and their push to slash Australia’s drowning deaths

It was uncommon for 20-year-old Jona Kinivuwai and his pals to drive an hour to get pleasure from an ocean sundown when the bay seashores of Frankston had been simply 20 minutes away. However they’d seen Rye’s photogenic No 16 Seashore in TikTok movies, which captured its otherworldly magnificence on calm days at low tide.

There are not any mentions in these charming movies of the savage rips and lethal swells of the Mornington Peninsula’s again seashores, largely unpatrolled by surf lifesavers. Nor did the buddies determine any hazard once they arrived on 4 February 2024 – on a day with excessive winds and tough waves.

The week earlier than Jona’s go to, 4 members of an Indian household who had been wading within the shallows on an unpatrolled seashore in Phillip Island, died when a wave dragged them to sea.

“When the children got here to select Jona up, he yelled out to me and I stated, ‘Son, watch out’,” Jona’s mom, Luse Kinivuwai, tells Guardian Australia. “If we’d identified the place he was going, I’d have stated, ‘don’t go on the market’, as a result of we’d been studying about that household.”

Simply earlier than 7pm, Jona and his mates had been working out and in of the waves when Jona, a promising basketball participant, tripped.

“And a wave got here and took him,” his mom says.

Nobody on the seashore was adept sufficient a swimmer to aim a rescue, nor was there any rescue tools. Somebody referred to as 000. The rescue helicopter arrived about 10 minutes later however Jona’s physique has by no means been discovered.

Luse Kinivuwai, whose son Jona, 20, drowned at No 16 seashore on the Mornington Peninsula. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

Throughout Australia final summer time, 99 individuals drowned – a ten% enhance on the earlier summer time. Many of those deaths occurred at unpatrolled or remoted places. Victoria had its highest summer time drowning complete on report, with 26 lives misplaced. The final dying on No 16 seashore had been in 2021. The morning of Jona’s dying, surfers had been speaking on the strip of retailers on close by Dundas Road, worrying that it could possibly be a lethal day. Social media movies had been drawing giant crowds of vacationers and Melburnians.

Within the following weeks, a few of those self same surfers and divers joined the household within the seek for Jona, as his father, Ilisioni, reduce a lonely determine combing the thick kelp on the shoreline with a rake.

The Kinivuwais got here from Cranbourne each day, using a paraglider and drone operator, and a search and rescue service when the official search ceased.


Pissed off locals have began taking issues into their very own arms, warning guests of harmful circumstances and even working their very own coaching programs on how you can rescue somebody in bother.

Drew Cooper lives a 10-minute drive from No 16 and continuously hears rescue helicopters. He’s a plant nursery proprietor however has been concerned in surf lifesaving since he was a child, and now his daughters are a part of the native membership.

“We’ve assisted individuals loads of instances,” he says, “however it’s additionally a threat.”

Cooper began researching seashore security initiatives and occurred upon the distant rescue tube. This gadget hooks across the rescuer’s shoulder and torso by a leash (in the event you’re sufficiently old to recollect Baywatch you get the concept), in order that the gadget might be pushed in direction of the particular person struggling. This counters the chance of the rescuer being dragged below.

“The group right here is at its wit’s finish” he says. “Surfers can’t be in every single place directly and these tubes might forestall additional drownings.”

An indication at No 16 Seashore. Final summer time, Victoria had its highest drowning complete on report, with 26 lives misplaced. {Photograph}: Jane Horne

The tubes had been successful in Kauai, Hawaii, when a spate of drownings in 2008 led locals to hold one on shrubbery. That grassroots scheme took off and rescuer drownings dropped from 60% to 13%.

Synchronistically to Cooper’s efforts, a three-year trial had begun in 2021/22 in New South Wales, managed by Metropolis of Coffs Harbour’s Lifeguard Service, funded by the Rotary Membership of Coffs Harbour and Pink Silks Perpetual Belief. The Metropolis of Coffs Harbour has instructed Guardian Australia that, within the 33 months for the reason that challenge began rolling out, there have been 13 identified profitable rescues involving the units and no unsuccessful rescues.

In the meantime, Life Saving Victoria (LSV) has established a trial of rescue tubes at Venus Bay in Gippsland. Rescue tubes might be put in with alarms and embrace a function that connects the consumer to emergency providers.

Parks Victoria, the land supervisor, supplied approval for the trial in January 2024 and the LSV is now ready for the Division of Power, Surroundings and Local weather Motion to present the ultimate greenlight to start putting in the stations.

Dr Hannah Calverley, supervisor of analysis and analysis at LSV, stated the challenge was designed primarily based on tragic incidents at Venus Bay throughout out-of-patrol instances or at unpatrolled areas. “And the rescuer has been the one which has really drowned and the individual that was initially in bother has been the one which has survived.”

Dr Amy Peden, a researcher on the College of NSW who research drowning prevention methods, says there are numerous explanation why there’s usually a sluggish and cautious strategy to implementing new public rescue tools‚ together with perceived dangers if the tools is misused.

“We’re probably not a litigious society in Australia,” Peden says, “however [land managers] wouldn’t need to put one thing in that’s going to have the alternative impact, of somebody incorrectly deploying it or a name not going by way of [to emergency services], so assist doesn’t get there in time.”

Peden isn’t satisfied by the efficacy of indicators. There are two an identical indicators at No 16, one originally of every of the 2 seashore tracks. Symbols depict harmful circumstances. Beneath is a warning: “No life saving providers. Nearest patrolled seashore is Sorrento Again Seashore.” Within the occasion of an emergency, the general public is suggested to name 000.

Parks Victoria instructed Guardian Australia: ​​“Security signage at No 16 seashore in Rye is compliant with Australian nationwide requirements. These signal requirements have been developed by the Australian Water Security Council, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Royal Life Saving Society to present a transparent and uniform message to guests in order that they’ll make knowledgeable choices in regards to the threat in coastal areas.”

The 2022-23 Life Saving Victoria Drowning Report states that 36% of drownings in Victoria over the previous decade have concerned individuals from CALD communities. Whether or not or not somebody can learn English, Peden says, “So many individuals ignore signage, so we do want to consider methods to make it as eye-catching and clearly understood and as efficient as potential.”

In some areas of NSW, rock fishers should move an indication with a dying tally and textual content translated into Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese language. One other concept that has been raised among the many local people is a surf equal of a hearth hazard score signal.

“I feel stuff like that may be fairly highly effective to make individuals concentrate,” Peden says of the rock-fishing signal. “By way of the fireplace signage, it has been round for fairly some time and I feel it’s moderately nicely understood amongst the group.”

Luse Kinivuwai approves of indicators that announce the variety of deaths at a website. One thing that shocked her, as she arrived in a police automobile at No 16 that evening, was that to her the seashore lacked “a way of hazard”.

Her son, she says, was not a powerful swimmer. “He didn’t realise the hazard. That’s one of many issues that they’ll do, to enhance the indicators”

Jona Kinivuwai’s physique has by no means been discovered. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

“Something to alert individuals,” she says.

Whereas the risks of unpatrolled surf seashores are frequent information in coastal communities, the rising dying toll at these seashores suggests ocean literacy amongst beachgoers must be addressed.

“These children don’t know something in regards to the risks of the seashore. They aren’t educated on it,” Kinivuwai says. “We’d be glad to pay for indicators.”

Over the Easter weekend, No 16 grew to become the backdrop for but extra social media photographs. One TikTok put up has had 222.6k likes, so whereas Jona’s brother tries to warn of the risks within the remark sections, his pleas change into misplaced.

The household had been again in Rye to go to No 16 once more. As she has since Jona’s disappearance, Luse Kinivuwai warns unwitting guests of the hazard as they pose for footage.

“Something we will do to assist,” she says, “We’d be glad to.”


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