The 20-year-old Coffs Harbour man was washed off the south wall on Thursday January 21, 2021. Photo: Tim Jarrett
The 20-year-old Coffs Harbour man was washed off the south wall on Thursday January 21, 2021. Photo: Tim Jarrett

Ex-cop shocked by inaction after breakwall tragedy

A Coffs Harbour woman with a history of police work and emergency response, has criticised the way authorities handled the unfolding tragedy at the southern breakwall over the weekend.

The 20-year-old's disappearance on Thursday evening sparked a massive air and sea operation, but it wasn't until family and friends were allowed onto the wall on Saturday morning that his body was discovered.

The man's younger sister Nargis Yaqubi said it was "really shameful" it was the family that discovered the body.

"The police, they did not find my brother … it was two of our men, they went into the rocks and saw my brother's body."

The man’s mother being comforted by family and friends after the discovery of the man’s body on Saturday morning. Photo Frank Redward.
The man’s mother being comforted by family and friends after the discovery of the man’s body on Saturday morning. Photo Frank Redward.

Chief Inspector Joanne Reid from Coffs/Clarence Police said the area around the rocks had been "earmarked as an area of interest" but like all searches access was dependent on conditions.

Insp. Reid said weather conditions had been "atrocious" from the outset, hampering the efforts of emergency services, in particular the wind and the swell.

A large swell prompted authorities to close the gates to the breakwall on the Tuesday prior to the incident.

Tricia Franginha has lived in Coffs Harbour for two years and walks around the jetty area "most evenings" with her husband and was there on Thursday evening and again on Friday.

Before coming to Australia she spent seven years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and worked in emergency response at maximum security prisons.

Family and friends at the harbour on Friday. Photo: Tim Jarrett
Family and friends at the harbour on Friday. Photo: Tim Jarrett

She was surprised that the two police and two paramedics she could see at the scene were not searching, but preventing people from entering the area.

"It just blows my mind that this wasn't the first place they checked," Ms Franginha said.

"It's very possible that he just had injuries, and that he could have been found alive."

She understands the concern about putting first responders at risk, but in her opinion the seas were not so rough that trained rescue teams could not have searched the rocks at some stage in the proceeding days.

"But they are paid to put their lives at risk, they do it every day in tsunamis and all kinds of conditions and the weather wasn't that crazy."

Waves rolling into the harbour on Friday.Photo: Tim Jarrett
Waves rolling into the harbour on Friday.Photo: Tim Jarrett

She posted on the Coffs Coast Advocate's Facebook page in response to our story: Body found at breakwall

Her comment asking why volunteers were not allowed to help search the rocks with torches received 48 replies - some accusing her of being nothing more than a #facebookexpert and saying seas were way too big to allow rescuers onto the rocks.

"People will troll anything and everything but I am just happy to see that nothing I am saying is hurting the family and friends and they are actually echoing what I am saying."

Close friend Ali Hosseini was with family members who gathered at the scene.

"We already knew where he is, the pain is the police didn't walk there to see from the bridge and they were just looking in the ocean. Several times we requested to go there and we told them we will find him but they didn't let us go in there till today (Saturday) in the morning," he posted on the same Facebook thread.