Inquest into the death of Christopher Drake
Jessica Murty, CSO Senior Solicitor, Inquiries
On 16 March 2013, Christopher (aged 23) and a number of friends went to the North Curl Curl rock pool to swim. Whilst at the rock pool Christopher was hit by a large wave and washed out of the pool. A search was immediately commenced but was not able to locate him. On 20 March 2013 Sydney Water Police found a body floating 400 metres off Blue Fish Point Manly. The body was recovered and subsequently identified as Christopher's.
On 22 July 2014, following a four day inquest, Deputy State Coroner MacMahon delivered written findings.
The inquest had considered the circumstances in which Christopher was washed out to sea (including whether or not Christopher was "chain surfing" – an act of clinging to the pool's fence as waves crashed over him), the weather conditions on the day, whether the rock pool was closed at the time and if so whether this fact was sufficiently indicated, the nature and sufficiency of the search for Christopher, and the knowledge of the risks associated with the pool.
Deputy State Coroner MacMahon found that the conditions in the pool were not overtly dangerous when Christopher's group commenced using the pool, but that the conditions changed rapidly following two large waves striking in close succession, with the second large wave far exceeding that which immediately preceded it. Unfortunately Christopher appears not to have been able to maintain his grip on the railing and the force of the wave washed him into the pool after which he became unconscious. His Honour concluded that Christopher did not attend the pool with the intention of chain surfing, a finding of some comfort to Christopher's family.
Deputy State Coroner MacMahon found that the rock pool had been closed by Warringah Council Lifeguards but that the sign posting (only one sign was placed on one point of access to the pool; and one side of the sign said "Pool closed dangerous conditions", while the other side said "Pool closed for cleaning") was ineffective, in part due to the mixed messages depending upon where one stood in relation to the sign.
His Honour found that the rescue efforts launched by Warringah Council Lifeguards and Surf Life Saving volunteers were extensive and involved the use of various forms of equipment and many personnel. The evidence showed that those involved were active in their attempts to locate Christopher and some placed themselves at risk in doing so. His Honour was satisfied that the action of the beach inspectors and the surf life-saving personnel involved was both timely and appropriate and he commended their efforts.
Finally, Deputy State Coroner MacMahon found that due to the position and construction of the rockpool, there were inherent risks involved with using the pool in particular surf conditions.
His Honour recommended that Warringah Shire Council obtain an expert safety audit of the North Curl Curl rock pool that considered the pool's inherent dangers, means of communicating those dangers to the public, and any improvements to mitigate such dangers.