Court hears tragic details

Mr Ganasala, his wife and two sons, aged six and seven, and Mr Pagadala Shiva, his pregnant wife and 18-month-old son, along with older relatives, took the ferry to the island at about 8.45am. It was a busy day with an estimated 1000 visitors.

At about 2pm, weather and tide conditions changed, and at about 2.20pm, ferry operator Rockingham Wild Encounters owner Terry Howson called the DEC asking why the sandbar was not closed.

Mr Howson told the inquest his ferry skipper had rescued about 15 people already that day. He said that previously one of his skippers had requested indefinite stress leave after a difficult rescue, while another discussed leaving the company after performing CPR twice in one week.

At about 2.48pm, DEC island officer Murray Banks decided to begin the procedure to close the sandbar. Just 12 minutes later, the two couples decided to return to the mainland using the sandbar while sending their children and other relatives by ferry.

Mrs Ganasala said that as the four reached the middle of the sandbar suddenly they could not touch the bottom and began to scream for help. She said she became unconscious after about 10 minutes and woke later vomiting in an ambulance.

Ferry skipper Justin Dowie rescued a father and daughter about 3pm during a regular crossing and heard screams from people in the water closer to the island.

Mr Ganasala and Mr Pagadala Shiva tried desperately to save their wives, holding them above water level.

DEC island officer Murray Banks launched a dingy after receiving reports of people in the water and said he found four people lying face down in deep water and managed to pull three into the boat, while securing the third, Mr Pagadala Shiva, to the side of the boat.

Mrs Pagadala regained consciousness in the dinghy while Mrs Ganasala was revived in an ambulance on the way to hospital.

Mr Mulligan said Mr Banks’ intervention directly saved the lives of the two women. Paramedic officers pronounced Mr Pagadala Shiva dead at 4.10pm, followed by Mr Ganasala a short time later, at 4.20pm.

Mr Banks and and Mr Howson received SLSWA awards in December 2011 for their bravery.