Johnny Heesters can remember Beng Keong He’s distraught friend Ong Peng Tam ‘like it happened yesterday’.
‘The look on his face pointing out to sea going, ‘My friend, my friend’, it wasn’t just what he was saying, it was his emotion and the look in his eyes,’ Mr Heesters said.
After using the rip that took Beng Keong’s life to paddle out and search in vain in rough conditions, he returned to Ong Peng, who had been receiving oxygen treatment on the beach.
‘I think he was expecting me to come back with his friend in my arms or slouched over my shoulder or something,’ Mr Heesters said.
‘But when I came back empty handed and started asking questions about his friend, his whole demeanour changed, his shoulders slumped down, he began to shake, his bottom lip started to quiver, tears in his eyes.
‘And I had to basically say to him, ‘I couldn’t find your friend; I believe he is lost.’ It was very traumatic for him because that was his friend; they had been working together on the farm.
‘Let’s face it, a couple of mates went fishing and one of them died.
‘You don’t have to be Australian to do that. You can be from any country.
‘His demeanour, it was very clear to me that his friend was missing, had drowned. I’ve seen that face in other people during my work as a police officer and you don’t forget it in a hurry.’
Ong Peng, who like his friend had been an ‘unlawful citizen’, was hospitalised and a short time later deported to Malaysia by the Immigration Department.
He helped authorities investigate the drowning and rescue effort.