A day at the beach turned tragic for two families. Before a trip to Wollongong beach, the two families were strangers. A mother and her four children were enjoying a day at the beach just as a young father played in the sand. The surf turned deadly as the four kids were suddenly overcome by waves and their mother, Islam Hammad scrambled to help. In the chaos, Shaun Oliver jumped in to help. Oliver did not know the Hammads, but as a young father, he was aware that the kids needed rescue.
As Hammad explained the scene:
“They had been very close to us, not far and suddenly the waves became very crazy and they started to get to the back of the beach.
This man went in and saved one of the children… then the man suddenly disappeared.
I feel trouble for myself that I couldn’t save him… he didn’t think about anything, he just went straight in the water.
He is a hero. I’m sure he is very happy in the place that he is now.”
— Ashlea Brown (@AshleaBrown7) September 10, 2017
An average day at the beach quickly turned into an emergency as waves seemed to come out of nowhere. Two of the Hammad children were quickly pulled to shore by strangers on the beach. The two older boys became trapped in the surf and needed rescue. This was when Oliver joined surfers to help the efforts.
An off duty paramedic rescued the 10-year-old son as others fought the current to reach his older brother. Oliver was able to help the oldest boy back to shore, and then he disappeared in the surf. Oliver was later pulled from the water by police officers. It seems he had been pulled out to sea after getting the boy to safety. Rescue workers attempted CPR but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) September 11, 2017
The shock of Oliver’s death hit the beach incredibly hard. He was a father of three and preparing to celebrate ten years of marriage to his high school sweetheart. According to a statement from his brother Nathaneal:
“Shaun has sacrificed his future happiness and shared life with wife Carla and three beautiful children to do what none of us hope to do in this lifetime…be tested.
Sadly not long before their 10-year anniversary, Shaun was faced with an ultimatum. He chose to protect those who could not protect themselves.
And he, and his family, have paid a heavy price.”
As the family of Oliver mourns his death, the local authorities stepped in to share some shocking news. It seems there was a warning system in place to attempt to keep swimmers out of the water when things were not safe. On the day that Oliver died, there was a warning about the surf. The beach had not been cleared for swimmers, and technically there should not have been anyone in the water. According to Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth:
“No flags, no swim. It’s a simple message, but it just doesn’t get through.
A (man) has died as a result of his heroic efforts to rescue four children from the surf.
It really puts individuals who come to the aid of people in danger.”
The beach where the boys nearly drowned uses a system of signs and flags to alert families to water conditions. It is marked that when the water is safe for swimming, the flags will be put out. On this day the flags were not out because the surf was dangerous. It is not clear why the Hammad family ignored the lack of flags or if they were aware of the system.
While Oliver died a hero, in this case, it is pretty clear that the situation could have been avoided. A family of four made a bad judgment call to go into dangerous waters, and a stranger paid the ultimate price. Local authorities are hopeful that this tragic death reminds those who visit the beach to follow the flag system and stay out of the water when it is not safe. Oliver’s family have focused on his efforts to save a child and the type of man he was to make the jump into the water that day. The Hammad family has stayed out of the media attention since the events at the beach.