Diggers Beach
Diggers Beach Trevor Veale

'Look out for others' safety': Grieving family's beach plea

AT DIGGERS Beach on December 17, an afternoon in the water ended in tragedy.

What was supposed to be a big family holiday on the Coffs Coast was now a heartbreaking time for the relatives of 49-year-old Fiona Bohanna.

Instead of Christmas shopping and preparing for upcoming festivities, Fiona's mother, Lorraine Drews, and the rest of her family were waiting for Fiona's body to be released so they could return to Queensland and organise her funeral.

Fiona had been swimming with husband Alex and her nephews when they all got caught in a rip.

Alex and the young boys made it back to shore safely. When Fiona reached the sand, she collapsed.

Paramedics used a defibrillator at the scene before she was rushed to Coffs Harbour hospital. Fiona could not be revived.

Initial reports indicated Fiona was a British national, but she was a born and bred Queenslander.

"My daughter was raised around the water, she could swim like a fish," Mrs Drews said.

"The beaches around Coffs Harbour are very beautiful, but also very dangerous.

"As a family dealing with our loss, we just want to bring awareness to the importance of being on the lookout at the beach.

"If you think you see someone in the surf who might be in trouble, don't disregard it.

"Take a second look, ask someone else. That person could be signalling for help.

"I fear many of the younger generation don't realise a raised arm in the surf is someone signalling for help."

Coffs Harbour Lifeguard team leader Greg Hackfath said rips were one of the biggest issues on the east coast of Australia.

"We push the message very hard, if you're caught in a rip, stay calm and float with the rip. If it doesn't return you to shore, raise your arm, relax and wait for rescue," he said.

"One of the factors contributing to so many incidents at beaches is bystander rescues.

"When people see someone in trouble, the first reaction is to go into the water and help.

"To hold another person up in the water who is in a panic is almost impossible.

"Even for a trained lifeguard it's a difficult situation, and if there's a swell it becomes even worse.

"Grabbing a flotation device before you go to someone's aid can make all the difference.

"The type of flotation device I'm referring to is a bodyboard or a surfboard, obviously not a blow-up flamingo.

"It's all well and good to say swim between the flags but people still swim in other areas.

"Educating the public to look out for each other is key. Especially getting locals, people who walk their dogs or surf or swim at our beaches regularly, to say something when they see someone walking into a potentially dangerous situation.

"A quiet word or a little bit of advice, maybe suggesting the person 'go around the corner to a patrolled beach' or to point out 'rips are making it too dangerous for a swim today' is local information that will help visitors to our beaches."


  • Don't swim alone
  • Swim between the flags
  • Swim near board riders
  • Use a flotation device
  • Be aware of rips
  • If in difficulty, remain calm and raise your arm

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