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An Eyewitness Account Of Death At Tombstones

A dark day at one of the world’s least user-friendly waves.

news // Jun 1, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

It could happen to anyone. You chase a small one and turn around to see the entire ocean about to unload on your head. At Tombstones, arguably the heaviest reef in the world, the consequences are particularly dire. This is the sequence of events that most likely preceded the death of a 55-year-old man two days ago at Gnaraloo, according to eyewitnesses and those involved in the rescue.

“The old boy was out there with his son, who’s in his thirties,” recalls photographer Mike Riley, who was on the beach watching it unfold. “His old boy took off on a small one, a couple of eight footers came behind it sucking dry, and he just got stuck in the worst position when he came up, and had one land on him and drive him straight into the reef.”

Tombstones is a vicious wave – as evil, hollow, and riddled with steps as it gets. According to the people who know, it’s responsible for more serious injuries than any other wave in the world.

“So many injuries at that wave, more injuries than I’ve ever seen,” says Kalbarri tube specialist and Tombstones regular, Ry Craike. “People lose half their face. I’ve had my fair share of injuries up there, snapped one of my ligaments in my knee. Kerb (Brown) has been done up there, Antman lost half his face, fucken heaps of hideous injuries just because of heaps of jagged rock, and when the tide starts getting low it gets pretty gnarly.”

It was low tide and as dangerous as it gets when Sunday’s incident occurred. The set that did the damage was the first of a pulse that would last all through the morning. The 55-year-old was reached first by Kalbarri charger Jake Perkins, and noted underground hellman, Luke Mchugh, from Carnarvon. They’d worn the same set on the head, though were further in, out of the immediate impact zone, escaping unscathed. After watching the man’s board go over the falls on consecutive waves, they raced toward him, turning him over to discover head injuries and no sign of responsiveness. A fireman, who was also in the water at the time, confirmed there was no pulse and took charge of the daring rescue effort. The whole lineup assisted in helping get the man back to shore. Meanwhile, the ocean continued to pulse, hammering set after set on the rescue team. Leg ropes became tangled, boards were sacrificed and the crew were washed perilously close to the bombora. The man was lost amidst the chaos a couple of times, followed by frantic efforts to recover him. The crew made it to shore but nothing could be done. As the son mourned his father on shore, Tombstones continued to thunder 10 foot slabs down the reef behind. The lineup was left deserted for the rest of the morning out of respect to the deceased.

Stab would like to offer its condolences to the family of the deceased and thank everyone involved in the rescue effort.

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