Sunday 17 December 2017

‘We couldn’t paddle against it’

Friend of Irishman missing in Australia reveals how they were thrown against rocks

Stuart Butler
Stuart Butler
Joyce Fegan

Joyce Fegan

A FRIEND who survived a surfing accident that has seen a young Irishman lost at sea in Australia has said he is still in shock.

The search for Stuart Butler (20) is due to resume at first light local time today, the fourth day of searching.

However, a spokeswoman for the police in Australia told the Irish Independent "that there are really big swells happening up and down the coast which is hindering the search".

The young man from Santry, Dublin, got into difficulty surfing off Cape Byron on Saturday.

Three friends - Stuart, Levi Fahrenholtz (25) from Seattle in the US, and Mike Fuller (19) from England arrived in Byron Bay - a popular backpacker and tourist resort in northern New South Wales near the border with Queensland - last Thursday.

Three men went out surfing together before getting caught in rip, which is a stretch of turbulent water , and thrown against rocks.

The three had met at Arrawarra, north of Coffs Harbour where they were staying at the SpotX campsite owned by Byron Bay-based Mojosurf.

Yesterday, speaking to 'The Northern Star' newspaper in Australia,  Levi described his friend "Stuey" as fun-loving and "a modern-day pirate".

"I had known him for six weeks and he was always positive; constantly laughing and making jokes - he was fun and goofy," Levi said.

"He was living the dream life by the beach and everything was fine. The only long-term plans he had was to come to Byron Bay and live here until after the New Year.

"Stuey had been to Byron Bay earlier this year and it was his idea to come up here again - he'd had fun here. He'd told me about partying at Woody's (nightclub)."

The three friends would surf together nearly every day, Levi said.

"Whenever we had a break from work together we would go surfing."

The three men decided to go for a surf around 10am on Saturday and headed straight for Cosy Corner at the northern end of Tallow Beach.

"The waves didn't even seem huge; I would describe (the surf) as semi-huge that day. It wasn't the size of the waves, it was more that it looked choppy - I thought I might get thrashed around - but it was going to be fun. It was just buggerising around - we weren't looking to prove anything," he told 'The Northern Star'.

But it was soon obvious that they were in trouble, he said.

"We had just paddled out to the first break and then we were suddenly in the gutter getting dragged out," he said. "We couldn't paddle against it (the rip); it was too strong."

They were quickly dragged towards the rock face - even though they had entered the sea a good distance away.

Mike succeeded in getting to the rocks - but Levi was swept out to sea, only to be rescued around the Cape. It is unclear with happened to Stuart.

"I've spoken to my uncle who has told me that the shock will stay with me, but he has told me to stay strong; that life will go on," Levi said.

Speaking last night outside Mr Butler's family home in Dublin, a relative said: "Nothing has changed, we have no new information."

The police spokeswoman also said that many groups have come together to search for Mr Butler but that it was understood the operation "would be scaled down" later today.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it has been in contact with the man's family here.

Dangerous weather conditions have been hampering the search operation.

Yesterday morning an officer in Byron Bay Police Station, Mark Waspe, said: "There was no success today. The search will recommence at daylight.

"It's concentrated mainly on the coastline but we have severe swells so it's very challenging at the moment.

"They've had jet skis, boats and two helicopters out looking since the day of the incident."

Surf Life Saving Far North Coast duty officer Jimmy Keogh told local newspaper, 'The Northern Star' about the initial search. "Lifesavers from Byron Bay surf club, who were on a jet ski, located the first male coming ashore at Wategos.

Surf Life Saving members and Marine Rescue crews are leading the search.

A warning about hazardous surf conditions along the entire New South Wales coast was issued on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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