Tempting Fingal Spit death trap takes another life

TRA. 17 Nov 07. NSW only. Port Stephens. Aerial of Fingal Bay, Port Stephens. CREDIT AIRPHOTO AUSTRALIA.
TRA. 17 Nov 07. NSW only. Port Stephens. Aerial of Fingal Bay, Port Stephens. CREDIT AIRPHOTO AUSTRALIA.
NCH  - NEWS - A man in his 20's drowned today at Fingal Spit.  Photo by Marina Neil - 27th November 2013.

NCH - NEWS - A man in his 20's drowned today at Fingal Spit. Photo by Marina Neil - 27th November 2013.

FIFTEEN lives have now been claimed by a notorious sand bar at Fingal Bay Beach after a man drowned when attempting to cross the Fingal Spit last Wednesday.

Police said Jason Shin, 20, was visiting Port Stephens from Carlingford, near Sydney, with friends when he was swept off the sand bar and into rough surf about 2pm.

Port Stephens police inspector Guy Flaherty said on-duty lifeguards attempted to rescue Mr Shin from the water after being alerted to the incident by one of the man's friends.

"He was brought back to shore where police, lifeguards and ambulance took part in performing CPR," Inspector Flaherty.

The Hunter Westpac Rescue Helicopter was called, but the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

The incident comes almost 11 years after the last drowning at the sand bar, located about one kilometre north of the patrolled beach area.

Adamstown man James Loughnan, 25, was swept off the spit and drowned in 2002.

The spit almost claimed the life of a 17-year-old in October 2012, but Fingal Beach surf lifesavers rescued the teenager.

Glen Dunkley, duty officer for Hunter Water Surf Life Saving, said lifesavers and lifeguards patrolling the beach attend about four incidents at the spit a year.

"Each year, guaranteed, we get about three or four near-drownings," he said.

At low tide the spit, the point where two bodies of water crash together, creates a sand walkway between the beach and the island.

The sand bar was once a permanent access road to the island, but it was washed away by the Maitland Gale in 1898.

Port fishing identity John "Stinker" Clarke said the sand bar had been under water for a "very long time" and was not safe to cross.

"I call it [spit] a death trap," Mr Clarke said.

"It lures you in, then you're gone."

He said the sand bar was dangerous because of the ocean conditions - current, wind and wave direction - which shape it, either building it up or washing it away.

These conditions change daily.

He said the ocean conditions were "as bad as you could get" last Wednesday.

"There wasn't even a chance he [Shin] could get across," he said.

The dangers of crossing the walkway are explained on a National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) sign at the entrance to the spit and by other signage at the beach and the Fingal Beach Surf Life Saving Club house.

Information about the spit and advice not to cross it are also on the NPWS website.

Mr Dunkley said that during the holiday period lifeguards and lifesavers were active in warning beach-goers about the dangers of swimming outside the flagged areas, especially near the spit.

"We're engaging with people all the time," Mr Dunkley said. "We send our vehicle up there [the spit] to talk to people about the dangers of swimming there."

Mr Dunkley said that during the weekend and holiday period, when more people were using the beach, a jet ski and inflatable boat were close by the spit.

However, he said most rescues they performed occur outside patrol hours.

Last Wednesday's drowning has sparked timely advice from lifeguards and lifesavers to swim at patrolled beaches and between the yellow and red flags.