POLICE say a Sydney woman and child drowned near Bingara on Tuesday morning after the aluminium surfboat they were in clipped a tree and sunk in fast-flowing water during a holiday outing on the Gwydir River.
Jane Clitheroe, 55, and Elizabeth Tucker, four, both members of the North Narrabeen Surf Club, were named in media reports yesterday as the victims of the tragedy.
Inspector Nenad (Ned) Gligorevic, from the Barwon Local Area Command in Moree, confirmed Mrs Clitheroe and Elizabeth drowned after the boat became submerged in the river near Bingara about 10am. He said rough conditions had contributed to the deaths.
It is understood Mrs Clitheroe, an experienced surf lifesaver and champion competitor in inflatable rescue boats, was one of seven people on board the boat.
Her husband, also an active member of the club, was not on the fateful trip.
He was being comforted by Surf Life Saving NSW staff at home in Sydney yesterday.
When reports of the incident first came to light, some confusion surrounded the age of the young girl.
Police and the media at different times reported her age to be four, eight and five years old.
Yesterday police confirmed Elizabeth was only four years old.
The child’s grandmother told Macquarie Radio she was a beautiful girl, while Mrs Clitheroe’s husband said his wife was an incredible woman who loved the water.
A nipper at the club, Elizabeth was on the annual trip with her father, mother and older brother.
Her father, a lifelong member and former secretary of the club, was also in the boat when it became submerged.
He and four others on board managed to swim to shore.
Barwon Local Area Command Inspector Gligorevic told The Leader yesterday afternoon police had been working with members of the surf life saving club to gather evidence.
“To my knowledge, the bulk of the group are still here,” he said.
“They have been helping to provide evidence and statements to police that will be used to form the basis of a report compiled by police for the coroner.”
Specialist police divers from Sydney and members of the Volunteer Rescue Association and State Emergency Services attended the site of the accident, about 35 kilometres downstream of the Copeton Dam on Tuesday morning.
After hours of searching – and a request to State Water to stop the flow of the dam – the bodies of the pair, the boat and other equipment were recovered about 5.30pm.
Mrs Clitheroe and Elizabeth were part of a group of 30 members of the club participating in an annual camping trip.
It is understood the “river trip” has been an annual spring-holiday getaway for the club for the past 30 years.
Members of the North Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club flooded social networking site Facebook yesterday with tributes to Jane and Elizabeth.
A member of the page wrote: “To all those at North Narrabeen Surf Club, can I offer my condolences – our thoughts [are] with the family members – a little angel has been taken from us too soon.”
Another: “My heart is heavy today after reading this tragic news. North Narrabeen has always run strong in mine and my family’s blood, and I am shattered to hear of this tragedy. My heart and thoughts go out to the family, friends and club members. I know everyone will show true North Narrabeen spirit with comfort and support for the family and each other through this time of heartbreak and sadness. Stay strong, all my love and prayers to my friends at North Narrabeen.”
Inspector Gligorevic said the tragedy provided a timely reminder to people about safety near the water.
“You can never be over cautious around water,” he said.
“Keep an eye on conditions where you are.”