Inquest told death was preventable

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser

A coronial inquest into the death and suspected drowning of two men at Salmon Holes two years ago has heard how the fishermen chose not to tie themselves to anchor points or wear life jackets before they were swept into the ocean.

Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker is examining the death of Chinese men Chunjun Li, 42, and the disappearance of Jiaolong Zhang, 38, which occurred at the notoriously dangerous fishing location at 7am on April 18, 2015.

Opening the four-day inquest, counsel assisting Sergeant Lyle Housiaux said both men had arrived from Perth to fish at the location and opted to tie themselves together and loop a rope around a rock.

However, a large wave caused the rope to disconnect from the rock and both men were swept into the water on a day when conditions were described by rescue authorities as the worst they had seen.

“Mr Zhang and Mr Li tried in vain to get back up onto the rocks but the relentless swell dragged them out to sea,” Mr Housiaux said. “Witnesses, including Mr Zhang and Mr Li’s family, watched in horror as these two men got into difficulty and then became submerged.”

The court was told a witness had taken a photo of the moment the two men were swept off the rocks but the image was not shown on the opening day.

Sgt Housiaux said a tourist who was on holiday with his family risked his personal safety by entering the water from the beach and dragged Mr Li to shore, but he could not be revived.

Giving evidence, Constable Luke Chantler, who was the investigating officer and first on the scene, said the man had spotted a body face down in the water 100m from the beach after being in the water for between two to three minutes after sliding in.

Const. Chantler said when he and Constable Hugo Gill arrived at the scene at 7.44am, a small crowd had gathered around the body and unsuccessful efforts had already been made to resuscitate Mr Li.

Mr Zhang was never found despite an extensive four-day air, land and water search of the area involving Albany Sea Rescue, water police, Albany Surf Life-saving Club emergency response team, Department of Transport and the Westpac rescue helicopter.

Const. Chantler said communication issues with the area in the Torndirrup National Park had left rescue crews frustrated in attempting to find Mr Zhang, who had visited Salmon Holes for the first time and was not a strong swimmer. Asked by Sgt Housiaux if the deaths could have been prevented, Const. Chantler said proper use of the anchor points would have “potentially” saved their lives and life jackets “may have been a big help” to find Mr Zhang.

The inquest continues tomorrow.

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