A devastating drowning incident off Phillip Island has left an Indian-Australian family from Melbourne’s south-east in mourning. The tragedy unfolded near Forrest Caves, close to Cape Woolamai on the Bass Strait side of the Phillip Island’s southeastern peninsula, making it Victoria’s worst drowning event in almost two decades.
Last night, a close relative, too distraught to speak at length, confirmed the victims’ identities to The Age. The victims include 23-year-old Jagjeet Singh Anand, along with students Suhani Anand and Kirti Bedi, both 20 years old. Additionally, 43-year-old Indian national Reema Sondhi, who was visiting family in Australia, also lost her life. The three younger victims resided in Clyde.
Victoria Police Eastern Region Assistant Commissioner Karen Nyholm reported that the victims entered the water near Forrest Caves on Wednesday afternoon. Off-duty lifeguards surfing nearby rushed to their aid, pulling three people from the water unresponsive. A rescue boat retrieved the fourth person, with all requiring CPR.
Despite the tireless efforts of emergency responders, three victims were pronounced dead at the scene. One of the 20-year-old women was resuscitated and flown to The Alfred but tragically succumbed to the incident in the hospital.
Liam Krige, Life Saving Victoria’s operations general manager, commended the “absolutely remarkable” efforts of lifeguards. Talking to The Age, he also highlighted the alarming increase in drownings, with 19 reported in Victoria since December 1, surpassing the figures from the same period last summer.
Tributes flowed in, with the Indian high commission in Australia expressing sorrow for the “heartbreaking tragedy” on social media. The commission assured that the consulate general of India in Melbourne was providing support to the grieving family and friends.
Bass Coast Mayor Clare Le Serve extended condolences to the victims’ families, acknowledging the deep sadness within the island community. The tragedy has prompted authorities to review warning signs at Forrest Caves, emphasising the risks associated with swimming at the remote beach.
Police are still investigating the circumstances leading to the incident, urging caution against swimming in such treacherous waters. Emergency services advised residents and visitors to Phillip Island to utilise the three patrolled beaches, including Cowes Beach on the protected Western Port side, The Age report said.
The incident stands as the worst drowning tragedy in Victoria since 2005, underscoring the urgency of water safety measures.
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A tragic drowning incident off Phillip Island claims four lives, including young students & a visiting Indian national. Efforts by lifeguards couldn't prevent the heartbreaking event. 😢🏊♂️🌊🙏 #TheIndianSunhttps://t.co/n9b7PMi6LA
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) January 26, 2024