A CORONIAL inquest into the death of a four-year-old girl and a woman has found they drowned and made a recommendation for surfboat rowers to wear life jackets.
Magistrate Michael Holmes delivered one recommendation after the three-day inquest into how Elizabeth Tucker and 57-year-old Jane Clitheroe died, after their boat capsized on the Gwydir River.
The accident happened about 30km downstream from Copeton Dam on September 25 last year when the North Narrabeen Surf Club members were camping at Borah Creek for an annual break.
It was intended as time away from the rush of city life for the 37 club members on the trip, including 19 children, but it became a nightmare that will last a lifetime.
Seven people, including four-year-old Elizabeth Tucker, were rowing down the Gwydir River when the boat hit a tree in a fast rapid, causing it to tip and rapidly take water before pulling Elizabeth and Jane Clitheroe under. Both bodies were pulled from the water that afternoon after an extensive search.
Mother of Elizabeth, Vanessa Tucker, told the inquest her daughter was a “free spirit, who loved the simple things in life”.
“I feel blessed to be your mother. You will be forever beautiful, forever young,” she said.
Father Rod Tucker, who gave evidence, thanked officer-in-charge Detective Sergeant Jason Ronsczka for his professionalism as well as his empathy and compassion.
He also thanked the SES volunteers for their help and said it was good to hear the evidence and it “puts our minds at ease”.
Supporters from the North Narrabeen Surf Club were dressed in black with pink and purple accessories yesterday to honour Elizabeth Tucker’s favourite colours.
Solicitor advocate Ian Fraser read out a statement from Jane Clitheroe’s family, who described her as a bit of tomboy who loved the outdoors.
“I hope her tragic loss of life was not in vain,” the statement read, because it was “a life taken too soon.”
More than a dozen people gave evidence during the three-day inquest in the Coroner’s Court in Moree.
A representative from State Water told the court 1500 megalitres a day was being released at the time of the accident. State Water said the rate of the releases from upstream affects the flow rate and the height of the river and in the representative’s opinion, the change in the levels of the river might not have been noticeable to an individual.
Club member Michael McDermott told the inquest the boat had been used by the club solely as a river boat. However the inquest found the aluminium boat, that was 7.73m long, had oars that were clearly impractical for use in any narrow sections of the river.
Mark Hazell, who was on the boat at the time of the accident, recalled thinking the river looked like it was running “a bit quick”’ at the launch site, but he did not consider it dangerous.
Meanwhile, Bingara SES member Peter Turnbull said he considered the water to be “extremely fast and very dangerous”.
Magistrate Holmes found that the emergency response couldn’t be faulted and the primary cause of the accident was “the unsuitability of the boat for this stretch of river”.
“The importance of continually assessing the conditions, the suitability of the vessel and utilising the public information regarding river levels and flows are highlighted by this matter,” he said.
Magistrate Holmes found both Jane Clitheroe and Elizabeth Tucker died from drowning and that surf boat rowers no longer be exempted from wearing life jackets.