Saturday 24 February 2018

Drowned Irishman's friends 'thought he was joking' when he fell into harbour at Sydney festival - inquest

Brendan Hickey (34) drowned when he fell into the water after drinking with friends on waterfront

Tragic Irishman Brendan Hickey with girlfriend Julia
Pic: Facebook
Tragic Irishman Brendan Hickey with girlfriend Julia Pic: Facebook Newsdesk Newsdesk

Friends of an Irishman who drowned after he fell into a harbour at a festival initially believed he was joking.

Irish tourist Brendan Hickey, originally from Dublin, drowned in Darling Harbour during the Vivd Festival in Sydney, an inquest heard.

Friends and witnesses initially believed the 34-year-old was joking when he fell into the six-metre deep water of Cockle Bay and was seen struggling in the water around at approximately 10.55pm. The incident occurred on May 23, 2014.

Sydney Morning Herald reports that friends desperately attempted to find Mr Hickey who disappeared within two minutes of entering the water.

The inquest heard that the Irish man had a fear of water and couldn't swim properly.

The Coroner's Court also heard that the Vivid Festival organisers decided to continue with the light and sound show as rescuers searched for Mr Hickey in the water.

Shocked onlookers on the shore as a search is carried out for Brendan Hickey
Shocked onlookers on the shore as a search is carried out for Brendan Hickey

Mr Hickey, his girlfriend Julia Szymanska and two other tourists had a few drinks at a bar before buying four bottles of wine and heading to the harbour to watch the light show.

An autopsy of Mr Hickey showed he had a blood alcohol reading of .256 when his body was found.

Irishman Brendan Hickey with girlfriend Julia
Irishman Brendan Hickey with girlfriend Julia

The inquest heard how a ranger had warned the group that they were not allowed drink from the plastic wine glasses in the alcohol free zone earlier in the night.

Mr Hickey apologised to the ranger, shook his hand and appeared to leave the area.

However, just before 11pm, the group were sitting on a step and stood up to leave when Mr Hickey lost his balance and fell into the water.

Samantha Travis, one of the group, told how she jumped into the water and frantically tried to find her friend in the dark.

Another witness, Matthew Turner, said he believed his friend was "skylarking" at first.

"He was lying on his back, kicking. I thought he was joking and then he went under," he said.

The inquest heard how risk assessments carried out before the event didn't take note of the risk of people falling into the water.

There were no barriers or temporary fencing in place. It also heard that rangers and security personal hired for the event were forbidden from entering the water to rescue patrons and they were not trained in water safety.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Mark Cahill, said life buoys are located every 20 metres along the bay but Mr Hickey would have been unable to save himself if he had been thrown one, due to his inability to swim and his intoxication.

The inquest continues.

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