Fourth person dies as details emerge in Vic drowning tragedy

Four people have now died after being rescued from wild seas off Phillip Island in Victoria.

Four people have now died after being rescued from wild seas off Phillip Island in Victoria. Photo: AAP/Seven Network

A fourth person has died in hospital after being pulled from the water at an unpatrolled beach on Victoria’s Phillip Island.

Emergency services were called after the extended family group were seen struggling in the ocean off Newhaven on the popular holiday island about 3.30pm on Wednesday.

Two off-duty life guards pulled three people out of the water, while a rescue boat was required for the fourth person.

They were all unconscious and unresponsive, with two women in their 20s and a 43-year-old woman dying at the scene.

Another woman aged in her 20s was flown to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne in a critical condition. Police confirmed on Thursday morning that she had also died.

It is the state’s worst beach tragedy in almost 20 years, Lifesaving Victoria said.

“I certainly say this is horrific,” Eastern Region Assistant Commissioner Karen Nyholm said on Thursday.

“For those people that witnessed it … I’m sure it’s something they will unfortunately have to recall for the rest of their lives.”

Police initially identified the victims as three women in their 20s and a man aged in his 40s.

But on Thursday afternoon they clarified they were a 43-year-old woman from India, and a 23-year-old man and two women aged 20 from Clyde in Melbourne’s south-east.

Nyholm would not say what their family connection was, as next of kin were still being notified.

The Indian high commission in Australia confirmed it was providing assistance to the victims’ family and friends.

Police are still investigating what led to the drownings, although the Forrests Cave beach in Newhaven is a well-known surf spot with a lot of rips.

It is not patrolled, although there were lifesavers at two neighbouring areas, Life Saving Victoria’s Kane Treloar said.

“Forrest Caves is approximately four kilometres from both the patrolled site at Smiths Beach to the west and Woolamai Beach to the east,” he said.

“The beach at Forrest Caves is not for swimming – the rip currents … are quite significant and only a very, very experienced swimmer should be entering the water to swim.”

Lifesavers have urged anyone planning on going into the water off Phillip Island to stick to the area’s patrolled beaches.

“It’s certainly an absolutely tragic, tragic event,” the agency’s general manager of lifesaving operations Liam Krige said.

“It just goes to highlight that important safety messaging of making sure when you are heading out to the coastline, you do prioritise heading to a patrolled location.”

Krige said lifesavers would work with the local council to assess whether the beach should be patrolled in the future.

“But we need to remember that water safety is more than just rescue,” he said.

“It is about being really aware of the dangers and in the first instance, trying to prevent those rescues from even happening.”

Premier Jacinta Allan extended her condolences to the families of the victims and thanked first responders who reacted quickly.

“There will be an investigation and reports on yesterday’s incident in terms of what further actions need to be taken at that location,” she said on Thursday.

“The locals who know this area well don’t swim there. It just reminds us of when we’re visiting a place, is to be aware of the local conditions.”

Police will prepare a report for the coroner and are not treating the deaths as suspicious.

-with AAP

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