The West

Plans were underway to close the Penguin Island sandbar around the time two men drowned while trying to cross it, a coronial inquest was told today.

Coroner Dominic Mulligan started an inquest today into deaths of Indian men Pavan Kumar Ganasala, 37, and Praveen Kumar Pagadala Shiva, 31, who drowned while trying to save their wives after the couples were swept off the sandbar during a family outing on December 28, 2010.

The inquest was told the men, who were not strong swimmers, at one point had their wives on their shoulders.

Coronial investigator Sen. Const. Fiona Thorpe told the inquest that the Department for Environment and Conservation, which managed the island off Rockingham, was being urged to close the sandbar to the public after the weather worsened in the afternoon.

But by the time DEC ranger Murray Banks received authorisation to erect signs to close the sandbar, the men and their wives had already started crossing.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Sgt Lyle Housiaux, said an issue for the inquest might be whether the closing procedures were followed in an effective, timely and appropriate manner.

The inquest was told Mr Ganasala, Mr Pagadala Shiva and their wives left their three young children with Mr Pagadala Shiva's parents to return on the ferry.

The couple decided to cross the sandbar themselves even though they too had return ferry tickets.

The inquest was told that the ferry skipper and kiosk worker advised the couples against crossing the sandbar.

Sen. Const. Thorpe said DEC could not enforce the closure and people still ignored it and crossed the anyway.

But she said she had "no doubt" if the sandbar was closed earlier that the dead men and their wives would not have crossed.

She recommended that visual aids be implemented along the sandbar because people often walked in a straight line into deeper water, not realising the sandbar curved to the south.

The women and Mr Ganasala were pulled from the water by Mr Banks, who tied Mr Pagadala Shiva to the boat with a rope before rushing them to shore.

Ms Adapa said if she had seen and read the warning signs they would never have ventured on to the sandbar.

She called for the sandbar to be closed permanently in a bid to avoid other families experiencing the same tragedy.

Ms Adapa broke down in tears when she briefly gave evidence about the events in the water and the subsequent rescue.

"The tides came very fast ... we couldn't feel the floor. At the start everything is good," she said.

The inquest was told in 2009 out of about 85,000 people who visited Penguin Island it is estimated between 20,000 and 40,000 walked across the sandbar.

The inquest continues.

The West Australian

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