Tui Gallagher, 14, went missing in rough surf at Maroubra Beach on Tuesday night. Photo: Facebook NSW Search and Rescue alongside Surf lifesavers search for Tui Gallaher. Photo: Kate Geraghty
NSW Surf Lifeguards and Surf Rescue assist Tui Gallaher’s mother. Photo: Kate Geraghty
NSW Police Inspector Chris Whalley (2nd from left) talks the family of Tui Gallaher. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Police recovered the body of a swimmer who went missing at Bents Basin on Boxing Day. Photo: Nick Moir
One minute Tui Gallaher was standing on the edge of a rockpool at Sydney’s popular Maroubra Beach and the next he was battling against a strong rip sweeping him out to sea.
The 14-year-old now looks to be the eighth person to drown in NSW during a tragic Christmas period across the state’s beaches and waterways.
The teenager and his family had travelled from Guildford in Sydney’s west to Maroubra on Tuesday for a day at the beach.
Tui and his cousin, also 14, were standing on the rocks before they jumped into the surf at the southern end of the beach, where a fast-moving rip traced the rocky outcrop.
It is understood that part of the beach had been closed on Tuesday and authorities confirmed there were no red and yellow flags up when the boys went swimming just before 8.30pm.
The conditions were choppy with swirling currents and a three to four foot swell.
A 26-year-old local was walking past when he noticed Tui and his cousin in trouble in the rough seas.
He swam to Tui’s cousin and pulled him safely to shore.
The passerby then jumped into the waves again in a heroic attempt to reach Tui, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“To take the initiative and to enter the surf to try and rescue someone is a fantastic thing to do and something that is extremely admirable,” Eastern Beaches Local Area Command Inspector Chris Whalley said.
Tui’s mother, family friends and relatives watched on for the next three hours while surf life savers and water police searched in vain to find the schoolboy.
The search was called off at 11.30pm and started again at 7.30am on Wednesday.
Tui’s mother watched from the beach as jet skis, a rescue helicopter and a IRBs joined in the search for her missing son.
At one point she collapsed onto the sand before a friend comforted her and life guards rushed to her aid.
She was assessed by paramedics before she and other family members moved to a nearby club as the search continued.
Just before 4pm, surf life savers fished out a shirt from the ocean and it was whisked back to authorities on the beach. However Tui had still not been found.
His suspected drowning came after seven deaths in similar circumstances between Christmas Day and Tuesday.
Nepalese student Sujan Adhikari, 29, drowned after jumping into Wattamolla Lagoon in the Royal National Park on Christmas Day.
Grandfather Geoffrey Blackadder died trying to save his two nieces from a rip at Wooli Beach, north of Coffs Harbour, the following day.
Also on Boxing Day, Sujan Sharma, 27, drowned in a river in the Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, and Mohamed Amine Hamza, 25, died while swimming with mates at Bents Basin, west of Sydney.
Weibin Duan, 56, had been visiting Merry Beach at Kioloa with his family when he was found floating in the surf. The Kensington man died on Boxing Day afternoon.
On Monday a man was pulled unconscious from ocean baths at The Entrance on the Central Coast.
In a related tragedy on Boxing Day, a toddler who was pulled unconscious from a backyard pool on December 20 with her twin brother died in hospital.
The NSW Minister for Emergency Services, David Elliott, told the Herald: “Any death on our beaches and waterways is a tragedy and I encourage everyone to swim in patrolled areas and to pay attention to the directions of life savers.”
He said there was a $4 million boost to Surf Life Saving NSW in the current budget, which was part of an $11 million package for water safety projects aimed at reducing the number of drownings across the state.