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Four Indians die in tragic drowning incident near Melbourne in Australia

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Melbourne/Phagwara, Jan 25 (PTI) Three women and a youth, all Indians, drowned at an unpatrolled beach in Australia in what the officials said Thursday was the worst tragedy in the state of Victoria in decades.

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Jagjeet Singh Anand, 23, students Suhani Anand and Kirti Bedi, both 20, and Reema Sondhi, 43, were part of a group of about 10 people who had been enjoying a day out at the at Phillip Island, near Melbourne in Victoria, on Wednesday when the accident took place.

Sondhi, who was visiting her family in Australia, had arrived two weeks earlier. Sondhi was the daughter-in-law of industrialist Om Sondhi from Phagwara in India’s Punjab state. Reema’s husband Sanjeev too was part of the group but he survived.

Jagjeet Singh Anand, a Melbourne-based nurse, was a permanent resident in Australia while Suhani Anand and Bedi were on student visas. The three younger victims were all residents of Clyde, a suburb of Melbourne.

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All four are believed to be related, news.com.au website reported. A close relative identified and confirmed their names to the Australian media.

Victoria Police Eastern Region Assistant Commissioner Karen Nyholm said the victims entered the water near Forrest Caves -- close to Cape Woolamai -- on the Bass Strait side of the Phillip Island’s south-eastern peninsula.

Off-duty lifeguards surfing nearby rushed to their aid after the group got into difficulty, pulling three people from the water unresponsive.

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Life Saving Victoria commander Kane Treloar said lifeguards from Cape Woolamai were called at about 3.40 pm on Wednesday and a rescue boat retrieved the fourth person.

Three of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene while one of the 20-year-old women was resuscitated and flown to The Alfred. She died in hospital, police said on Thursday.

The deaths are not deemed suspicious, and the police will compile a report for the coroner, website sbs.com.au said.

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The Indian High Commission in Canberra on Thursday posted on X: “Heartbreaking tragedy in Australia: 4 Indians lost their lives in a drowning incident at Phillip Island, Victoria. Deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

@cgimelbourne team is in touch with friends of the deceased for all necessary assistance @MEAIndia @DrSJaishankar,” the High Commission posted.

Philip Green, Australia’s High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to Bhutan, too posted on X about the tragic accident as he said, “We are devastated to hear about the drowning of four Indians off Philip Island in Australia. Our hearts go out to everyone affected, including loved ones & friends, by this tragic news. On behalf of the Australian Govt, we offer our condolences to the family. @HCICanberra @MEAIndia @dfat” The Life Saving Victoria Drowning Report for the period from July 2022 to June 2023 highlighted that members of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community face a heightened risk of drowning compared to individuals born in Australia. “Within the same period, the state registered 59 drowning fatalities, and notably, 12 of these occurred within the CALD community,” sbs.com.au said, quoting it.

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Treloar said it was the worst drowning incident the state had seen in decades.

In Phagwara, Vijay Sondhi, Om Sondhi's elder brother and former councillor, said Reema's body was not in a condition to be brought back. “It will be cremated there itself,” Vijay said.

Local residents, including Union minister Som Parkash and former Union minister Vijay Sampla visited the bereaved family.

Parkash offered his services for taking up with the Central government the matter of bringing Reema's body to Phagwara for her last rites, Vijay said. PTI AMS CORR CHS VSD NPK AKJ NPK NPK

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