The devastated mother of a father-of-six who drowned on a New South Wales beach in Australia while trying to save his son has urged families not to swim at unsupervised beaches.
Michael Sneddon, a father of six and Central Coast local, was with his 10-year-old son, Cody, on Ettalong Beach, about 164 feet (50 meters) from shore, when the couple reportedly got caught in the rip at around 2:00: 30 pm on Saturday morning.
Family members say Sneddon tried to keep his son above the water before the father and son were rescued by beachgoers on jet skis.
However, Mr Sneddon was unable to be resuscitated by marine services and paramedics.
Sneddon's mother, Lillian Sneddon-Camilleri, said her son was a “caring father” who “loved his son and daughters.”
The devastated mother said she last spoke to Sneddon on Friday to wish him a Happy New Year, and is still in shock after hearing the news.
“Michael was a hero to me. He was always helping people and was a good kid in school,” she said.
In light of the tragic incident, Camilleri urged families not to swim at unsupervised beaches, such as Ettalong Beach.
On Saturday, lifeguards from nearby Ocean Beach and Umina Beach in Ettalong were deployed to assist in the rescue operation initiated by bystanders.
“He was a good son, and I loved him. I just want other parents to learn from this. Don't swim where there's no supervision, and carry safety items, like life jackets,” she said.
“I don't want other people to go through this.”
Sneddon's younger brother, Antonio Sneddon, said he was loved by his extended family, including his five siblings.
He said his family was told that Sneddon and Cody were standing on a sand barge when it collapsed, sending them into the water.
“It looks like Cody went in first and then Michael came in to save him,” Antonio said.
“We infer that Cody was clinging to his father and telling him to stay awake, but by the time they got Cody, Michael had unfortunately fallen into the ground and sustained lacerations.”
A statement issued by the family thanked the emergency services who rushed to the scene, and the bystanders on the beach who rescued Cody.
“He was a great brother, and to his mother and father he was a great son. To his children he was a great father.”
“He is loved by his family and co-workers.
“The Sneddon family would like to extend their thanks to everyone who was first on the scene and thanks for saving Michael’s son.”
Antonio said the family would invite representatives from NSW Ambulance or LifeSaving NSW to attend his brother's funeral, to assist them on the day.
Witnesses at Ettalong Beach on Saturday said they initially thought it was a different kind of emergency when they started hearing screaming in the surf.
One of them said: “They were shouting at us from the water… I think there is a shark in the water.”
The father's death marks a solemn 10-day anniversary for the Central Coast, after two men drowned on Christmas Day – one at Umina Beach, and a man in his 80s at Copacabana Beach.
Surf Life Saving NSW has confirmed nine deaths along the coast this summer alone.
Chief executive Steve Pearce said the incident was “devastating news” to the man's family and the wider community following the deaths of the last two people.
“They need time to reflect on these events and grieve the loss of their loved ones. We ask the media to give them privacy during this tragic time,” Mr. Pearce said.
Hundreds of local residents took to social media to share their condolences with the family and those involved in the rescue attempt.
Lifesaving NSW director Oliver Munson said surf lifesavers were looking to reinforce the survival message between the red and yellow flags to avoid more of these “tragic incidents”.
“The local Central Coast community will be severely impacted by this sinking, especially those involved in rescue and recovery attempts,” Munson said.
“It's really about emphasizing the importance of making sure you go to one of these patrolled sites, and staying safe between the flags whether you're paddling, swimming or surfing.
“We see all of these deaths happening in unpatrolled locations or outside of patrol hours.”
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