Two men drowned while trying to save their wives after being swept off the Penguin Island sandbar around the same time authorities decided to close the dangerous crossing, a Perth court was told yesterday.
A coronial inquest was told how an idyllic family day out for Indian friends Pavan Kumar Ganasala, 37, and Praveen Kumar Pagadala Shiva, 31, on December 28, 2010 turned to tragedy when the men and their wives decided to forgo their return ferry tickets and walk back to the mainland on the sandbar, as up to 20 others were doing at the time.
Coronial investigator Sen. Const. Fiona Thorpe said the Department of Environment and Conservation, which managed the island off Rockingham, had been urged to close the sandbar after winds strengthened after midday and several people had to be rescued.
Authorisation was given to close the sandbar but ranger Murray Banks was not able to erect the signs before the men drowned.
Sen. Const. Thorpe said the DEC could not enforce the closure and people still ignored it.
Mr Banks was in a dinghy and the only person who could rescue the two couples. At one point, the men had their wives, who could not swim, on their shoulders, the inquest was told.
Mr Pagadala Shiva's wife Madhavee Adapa broke down crying when telling the court how she woke up after being revived to find out her husband had died.
She said she had not seen warning signs that advised against crossing the sandbar but if she had they would not have attempted it.
Ms Adapa said other island tourists told her it was fine to go on the sandbar and she felt it was safe after seeing people with young children on it just before them. The couples' three young children were left with Mr Pagadala Shiva's parents to return on the ferry.
Mr Ganasala's wife Aruna Ganasala testified it had become "so, so windy" when they were on the sandbar.
"I could suddenly not touch the bottom. The water came up high and we screamed for help," she said.
Sen. Const. Thorpe recommended visual aids be erected along the sandbar to guide people because many people walked in a straight line into an area of deep water, not realising the sandbar curved to the south.
In 2009, up to half of Penguin Island's 85,000 visitors used the sandbar.
'I could suddenly not touch the bottom. The water came up and we screamed for help.'" *Aruna Ganasala *