Hero father and son remembered after drowning during rescue attempt in Australia
A Victorian family is heartbroken after a heroic father and son died while trying to rescue a tourist from treacherous waters. Dairy farmers Ross "Po" Powell, aged 71, and his son Andrew Powell, aged 32, have been remembered as heroes after their rescue boat flipped in two-metre swells on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019. They had been on a rescue mission for a 30-year-old male tourist who had been wading in dangerous waters at the mouth of the Sherbrook River at Port Campbell. "We are heartbroken," the Powell family said in a statement.
"Ross (Po) dedicated much of his life to contributing to his community ... He was very much loved and respected by many," it read. His son Andrew was always with his dad and was expecting his first child with partner Amber Griffiths in August. "We will miss our beautiful, big-hearted Andy and were so proud of the person he was - gentle, compassionate, loving and selfless - like his father," the family statement read.
Ross Powell's sister, Marea, was also devastated by the loss. "Ross was the most wonderful brother. He was my 'rock'. My two children loved and idolised their uncle and loved their cousin Andy. Ross and Andy will forever live in our hearts," she said.
The pair were high achievers in farming and were heavily involved in volunteering organisations to give back to the community.
Both were involved in the Victorian State Emergency Services, the CFA and the life-saving club. A third rescuer, Phil Younis, the town's fire brigade captain, was winched from the dangerous waters after the boat flipped and was taken to hospital along with the tourist. SES acting chief officer David Baker paying tribute to the men on Sunday. "The Port Campbell SES and the surf lifesaving club members are quite simply devastated," he said. "It has left a massive hole in the hearts of those units and clubs and the Port Campbell community."
Baker said Younis had received "significant injuries" and had undergone surgery in hospital. He is currently in a stable condition. "It's quite simply courageous and heroic in the extreme," Baker said of their actions.
Corangamite Mayor Neil Trotter, who has known Ross all his life and Andy "since he was a baby" said the tight-knit Port Campbell community was "shattered". With a population of only a few hundred residents, Cr Trotter said: "everyone in the community knows each other".
"It's a bit surreal and it will take time for them to come to terms with it because everyone in the community knew them, especially in the surf club community," he said. Cr Trotter said Ross was an inaugural member of the surf club, which was formed in about 1965. He added the pair were "very community-minded people", also volunteering for the CFA and SES.
Lifesaving Victoria president Paul James wept, describing the "highly experienced and long-serving members" of the club as heroes. "We know it is very treacherous down there and not a place to be swimming at all," he told reporters on Sunday. "These brave people, these heroes, have gone out to try to help." The incident will be investigated and a report prepared for the coroner.
An emotional Lifesaving Victoria president Paul James said through tears the rescuers were "highly experienced and long-serving members of the Port Campbell Surf Lifesaving Club", describing them as heroes. "They ventured out as a group of three rescuers in a 6-metre rigid hull inflatable boat. For whatever reason, that boat's gotten into difficulty," he told reporters on Sunday. "It's just terrible, it's heartbreaking.
"(The water was) very dangerous, I understand the boat was operating in a two- metre swell - a very high swell - and we know it is very treacherous down there and not a place to be swimming at all. These brave people, these heroes, have gone out to try to help."
James said he believed the rescuers were wearing full personal protection including life jackets. He asked swimmers to be safe for the rest of the long weekend. "Just please be safe out there. Don't put anyone at risk trying to save you," he said. "It kills me to think that people could end up injured or worse as a result of trying to help others. Our thoughts are with the family and the community down there."
Minister for Water Lisa Neville said an investigation would be undertaken following the incident. "This is an unspeakable tragedy and my thoughts are with the two victims' family and friends during this terribly sad time," she said in a statement.
"These individuals selflessly volunteered to keep people safe and devastatingly, they've lost their lives doing that."
A report will be prepared for the coroner.