Flood tragedy as teen dies collecting golf balls

Flood tragedy as teen dies collecting golf balls

 Luke O'Neil

Heartbreaking loss … Luke O'Neill playing for his beloved Camden Haven Bombers. Photo: Supplied

TEENAGER Luke O'Neill was happy, active and ''always smiling'', but his fun way to earn pocket money turned tragic when he was swept into a drain while collecting golf balls on the mid-north coast.

As heavy rain caused flooding near Port Macquarie on Friday afternoon, the 17-year-old and his friends were walking through waist-deep water searching for balls at Kew Country Club, when Luke was suddenly dragged under, police said.

His friends searched for him, and a 16-year-old boy was swept 100 metres through the drain and into a dam.

Car submerged on Pacific Highway, just North of Kempsey. Photo: Penny Tamblyn/The Macleay Argus

But Luke did not emerge. His body was found in reeds by another friend early on Saturday, police said.

It is believed the boys often collected balls to sell back to the pro shop.

Luke, from nearby Bonny Hills, was a popular and long-time member of the Camden Haven Bombers AFL club, committee member Chris Wright said. ''He was a lovely young fellow. He was always smiling, always happy. A very talented player.

 Luke O'Neill

" Always smiling, always happy " ... 17-year-old Luke O'Neill. Photo: Channel Ten

''He was always active, out and about playing with his mates. He was the type of kid who could put his hand to anything.''

Mr Wright said club members would be devastated by his sudden death. ''The ease at which something like that can happen will be felt by everyone.''

Luke's two friends were distraught when they were taken to Port Macquarie Base Hospital, and the 16-year-old was in a stable condition with water in his lungs, police said. ''They're local boys. It's an absolutely huge impact [for] a very tight-knit community,'' Inspector Kim Fehon said.

The tragedy was one of two flood-related deaths, with the body of a man found in a submerged car at Mylneford, near Grafton, on Saturday afternoon. Police were trying to identify him.

According to media reports, the victim was a 73-year-old local man who attempted to drive his car trough a flooded section of the road.

At Ellangowan, 20 kilometres south of Casino, a 68-year-old man ignored warning signs and drove on to a flooded causeway.

His Mazda Bravo utility was soon submerged up to the bonnet before the force of the current pushed the ute off the causeway into deeper water.

The man managed to escape moments before the car was fully submerged.

He was swept about 100 metres downstream where he was able to hang on to a tree.

About two hours later, a passer-by heard his cries for help and alerted emergency services.

Police and Casino Volunteer Rescue Association officers rescued the man a short time later.

He was treated at the scene by paramedics for mild hypothermia before he was taken to Casino Memorial Hospital.

The fatalities prompted authorities to warn people not to walk or drive in floods as heavy rain continued to fall along the coast, with the mid-north coast the worst-hit area.

The fatalities prompted authorities to warn people not to walk or drive in floods as heavy rain continued to fall along the coast, with the mid-north coast the worst-hit area.

State Emergency Service volunteers rescued several people, including a woman and her five children who had to be taken from their house at Glenreagh, north of Coffs Harbour, as water rose around them.

Sydney's Westpac Life Saver Helicopter was sent north, where its crew flew an ailing elderly man from his isolated property to Port Macquarie and then rescued another man from the banks of the Macleay River.

Thousands of people were isolated as the rising water cut off roads in the afternoon.

The SES issued evacuation orders for residents in areas around Kempsey and warned businesses and residents in the CBD of possible evacuation as the Macleay River reached 6.7 metres.

An evacuation order was also made for residents of Settlement Point, Port Macquarie, as the Hastings River was expected to flood on Saturday night.

The Bellinger River rose to over eight metres, causing major flooding, the bureau said.

The severe weather struck Sydney, where strong winds tore off part of the Wanda Surf Club roof in Cronulla. A meteorologist, Tim Constable, said a low-pressure system tracking along the east coast from Queensland should clear early in the week.

with Manuel Mitternacht


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