A jetski operator who was monitoring the 2012 Surf Life Saving Championships has told an inquest he couldn’t reach Matthew Barclay in time.
At least three people witnessed teen surf life saver Matthew Barclay slip beneath the waves during last year’s national championships but none of them entered the water to rescue him, an inquest into his death has heard.
A jetski operator told the coronial inquest he came within five metres of the 14-year-old’s limp body as it bobbed in large swell during the 2012 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast.
Event rescue officer Grahame Long said he had seen Matthew’s board fly in the air and the teen plunge below the surface of the ocean twice.
Mr Long told the Brisbane inquest he tried to manoeuvre his jetski to pick Matthew up but there was another competitor between him and the teen, who showed no signs of consciousness.
When the jetski operator eventually came close enough it was too late.
“If Matthew was to have resurfaced I could have grabbed him but he never resurfaced,” Mr Long said.
The jetski operator said there were two competitors on either side of Matthew who continued to race, with one pointing out to Mr Long the place Matthew was last seen.
The inquest heard it would have been too dangerous for Mr Long and another nearby jetski operator to abandon their craft in the rough seas with competitors nearby, so Mr Long raised the alarm and went to shore to brief other safety officers.
Asked how he expected Matthew was going to be rescued, Mr Long replied: “I knew we were going to be looking for a body”.
The inquest heard the swell when Matthew disappeared on March 28, 2012 was up to two metres with strong rips.
Organisers had chosen to continue the event despite safety concerns being expressed by lifeguards, parents, and some officials.
Lifeguard Dean Powell said he approached three officials in the morning, saying lifeguards had concerns for competitors’ safety after watching the under-15 girls struggle in the swell.
The professional lifeguard with 17 years’ experience said he was told by the officials the situation was being monitored, safety measures were in place and it was the boys’ turn to race.
“They also said they felt the boys could handle the situation, the conditions … the impression I got was I was holding up the carnival,” he told the inquest.
Matthew’s father Stephen Barclay, a lawyer, sat with the family’s barrister at the bar table after he was last month given leave to appear on his family’s behalf.
He didn’t directly question witnesses but advised barrister Stephen Courtney to ask certain questions.
Matthew’s mother Donna sat in the public gallery.
Outside court Mr Barclay said it had been a “very difficult day” but declined to comment further.
Matthew Barclay is the third teenager to die at Kurrawa during the national championships, following the death of 19-year-old Saxon Bird in 2010 and 15-year-old Robert Gatenby in 1996.
The inquest continues.