Indian community in Australia mourns victims of quadruple beach drowning in Phillip Island

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Philip Island Australia

Melbourne: The Indian community in Australia is mourning the tragic death of four compatriots, including three women, who drowned at an unpatrolled beach in Phillip Island this week.

Jagjeet Singh Anand, a 23-year-old male nurse, Suhani Anand and Kirti Bedi, 20-year-old nursing students, and Reema Sondhi, 43, died in the tragic incident on Wednesday. They were part of a group of about 10 people who were enjoying a day out at Phillip Island, near Melbourne in Victoria.

A close relative, who was too devastated to speak at length, said Sondhi was visiting her family in Australia and had arrived there two weeks earlier, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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.

Ravinder Singh, who is close to the family of the victims and is organising a fundraiser, said the community was struggling to comprehend the scale of the tragedy.

"It is so sad, we have no words," he told ABC News.

"They were very kind members [of Melbourne's Indian community], they were very down to earth.

"This is a loss that will never be filled. It is the darkest day of my life." Singh said he also wanted to raise the community's awareness of the danger of swimming at the beach, to try to prevent future heartache.

"It is very important to teach the community about rip currents," he said.

Friends have also started a GoFundMe campaign to help "fulfil the wishes" of the family.

"Shivam, a registered nurse with a heart of gold, saved many lives throughout his career but was unable to be saved when needed himself. Suhani and Kriti, both nursing students, had planned to stay home and focus on their studies, but life had other plans," campaign organiser Ankur Chhabra said.

"In this time of immense grief, we can come together, not just in mourning, but in a tide of compassion that lifts their families above the depths of despair.

"We can help by raising funds to assist the family in fulfilling their wishes, whether it be transporting the remains back to India or supporting the cremation ceremony in Australia," Chhabra told 9News channel.

The Indian high commission in Australia on Thursday in a post on X spoke about the “heartbreaking tragedy” in which “four Indians lost their lives”.

The commission said the consulate general of India in Melbourne was providing support to the family and friends.

Bass Coast Mayor Clare Le Serve, expressing her condolences to the victims’ families, said the Forrest Caves tragedy and other recent drownings had deeply saddened the Phillip Island community.

“Whilst we live in a beautiful region surrounded by beaches, this is sadly a tragic reminder of how dangerous the ocean can be,” she said.

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.

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—all required CPR.

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 morning.

“We all worked tirelessly to help those people,” Ambulance Victoria manager Paul James said. “It’s tragic … only a week ago we had three other separate drownings here in Gippsland.” Treloar said Wednesday’s tragedy was the worst drowning incident in Victoria in almost two decades.

“It’s not since 2005, [when] a tragedy occurred at Stingray Bay, that we’ve seen these sorts of numbers,” he said, referencing a drowning at Warrnambool’s Middle Island that killed five people from one family.

Treloar urged those on Phillip Island to swim at three patrolled beaches, including Cowes Beach on the protected Western Port side of the island.

“The exposed beaches along Bass Strait … are a dangerous, but really beautiful stretch of coastline that a lot of people want to come and enjoy this summer,” he said.

A spokesperson for Phillip Island Nature Parks, which manages the Forrest Caves area, said the authority would review warning signs at the beach, which already had a no-swimming symbol and met Australian standards.

Police are still trying to piece together what led to Wednesday’s tragedy, but are not treating the deaths as suspicious. Emergency services warned against swimming at the relatively remote Forrest Caves beach.

Police will prepare a report for the coroner.