Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Simon Cooper, Coroner, having investigated a death of Stephen Sotorios Xepapas
(a) The identity of the deceased is Stephen Sotorios Xepapas;
(b) Mr Xepapas died in the circumstances described in this finding;
(c) Mr Xepapas died as a result of drowning;
(d) Mr Xepapas died on 26 January 2014 at Roaring Beach, Nubeena in Tasmania;
(e) Mr Xepapas was born in Sparta, Greece on 27 July 1955, was aged 58 years, was in a defacto relationship and a Martial Arts Instructor at the time of his death; and
(f) No other person contributed to Mr Xepapas' death.
Mr Xepapas died as a result of drowning after being caught in a rip at Roaring Beach on the south-east coast of Tasmania. He was aged 58 at the time of his death and apart from having undergone surgery for hip replacement he was reportedly in good health prior to his death.
Mr Xepapas was born in Sparta, Greece on 27 July 1955. He moved to Australia with his family and was a naturalised Australian citizen.
He had been married for a number of years and had four children with his wife as well as 20-year-old daughter with his current partner and fiancée Ms Heese.
Ms Heese was with him at the time of his death.
Mr Xepapas was well known and respected in Hobart as a karate instructor.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
On Australia Day, 26 January 2014, at about 1:15pm, Constable John McGuinness stationed at Nubeena, was called to attend Roaring Beach in relation to reports of two swimmers having been caught in a rip at the beach. He arrived at 1:38 pm and ran 500 metres from the car park to the beach. When he arrived, Constable McGuinness saw three men conducting CPR on a person subsequently identified as Mr Xepapas. Ms Heese was also present and while she was being comforted by bystanders Constable McGuinness assisted to perform CPR. Mr Xepapas's eyes were bloodshot, pink foam was coming from his mouth and nose and he was non-responsive, showing no signs of life. A defibrillator was used on Mr Xepapas without success. CPR was continued. Local paramedics and volunteer ambulance officers arrived followed by more paramedics on the Westpac rescue helicopter. Constable McKenzie from Dunalley also arrived and provided assistance. Eventually CPR and medical treatment was ceased at 2:02 pm when paramedics made a decision that Mr Xepapas was dead.
Mr Xepapas's body was taken from the scene and formally identified before an autopsy was carried out. The autopsy performed by Dr Christopher Lawrence, the State Forensic Pathologist, revealed that Mr Xepapas had died as a consequence of drowning. I accept that opinion.
As part of the autopsy samples were taken from Mr Xepapas's body for analysis by Forensic Science Service Tasmania. Those samples revealed the presence of nothing other than caffeine in his body at the time of his death.
An investigation in relation to the background of Mr Xepapas and the circumstances surrounding his death was undertaken.
Roaring Beach is a very isolated surf beach roughly 110 kilometres south-east of Hobart. It is accessed via a gravel road - Roaring Beach Road - which leaves Nubeena Road just inside the Nubeena town boundary. A foot track roughly 500 metres in length leads from a car park through sand dunes and along a tidal lagoon to the beach. There are no signs at either the car park or anywhere on the beach warning of the danger of strong rips, currents or undertows. The beach, like many other beaches in Tasmania (and Australia) is not patrolled by surf lifesavers.
Mr Xepapas, according to Mr Heese, was a poor swimmer.
Mr Xepapas and Ms Heese decided to visit Roaring Beach on the morning of 26 January 2014. Mr Xepapas had not been the beach for many years and Ms Heese had never been there before. After encountering some difficulty locating the beach they arrived at about 1 pm. They parked their car in the car park and walked the 500 metres to the beach. Both entered the water. Weather conditions on the day were fine and warm to hot. At the time Mr Xepapas entered the water the tide was low but turning to come back in. There were strong tidal rips clearly visible from the beach in the area where both Mr Xepapas and Ms Heese had entered the water. No other persons were swimming at the beach at the time of the incident although small number of surfers and body boarders were at the western end of the beach roughly 400 metres from where the couple entered into the water. The area where Mr Xepapas and Ms Heese were in the water was on that day, and in those conditions were dangerous. The decision of Mr Xepapas to enter the water particularly given the fact that he was a poor swimmer was a bad decision.
Ms Heese described that after about 10 minutes in the water she was waist deep in the water and then suddenly found herself up to her mouth in the water and lost her footing. Mr Xepapas was close to her. It seems clear both she and Mr Xepapas panicked and grabbed and pulled at each other. Both were caught in a rip. Ms Heese was able to find her feet but was too weak to swim or move quickly. Mr Xepapas was swept away. Ms Heese screamed for help. Her screams alerted two young men on the beach, Mitchell Carson and Jesse Lynch to the difficulties Mr Xepapas and Ms Heese were in. Both young men entered the water and were able to get Mr Xepapas onto the beach. They are to be commended for their effort. Mr Xepapas weighed 124 kilograms and it would have taken considerable effort to get him to the beach.
While Jesse Lynch attended to Mr Xepapas, Mitchell Carson re-entered the water to bring Ms Heese to safety. Two other members of the public, Mr Patrick Cooper and Mr James Rennie, assisted with performing CPR on Mr Xepapas. They are also to be commended.
Unfortunately despite the efforts of the members of the public, police, local volunteer ambulance officers and paramedics, nothing could be done for Mr Xepapas.
I am satisfied Mr Xepapas died as a consequence of drowning. No person contributed to his death. Mr Xepapas's decision to enter the water on that day and in the surf conditions given that he was a poor swimmer directly contributed to his death.
Comments and Recommendations:
As has been already noted, Roaring Beach is an isolated surf beach with dangerous rips, currents and undertows. It is in an isolated part of Tasmania and is not patrolled by surf lifesavers. There are no warning signs at the car park or on the beach to alert members of the public of the potential dangers of swimming at Roaring Beach. There should be. Had there been, it is possible that Mr Xepapas would have not made the ultimately fatal decision to enter the water. Certainly there was nothing to alert him as to the dangers of swimming at Roaring Beach. I recommend that signs warning of the presence of strong rips, undertows and currents be erected in the car park and on the beach as soon as possible.
I commend Constable John McGuiness for the manner in which he dealt with this tragic incident and the highly professional standard of his investigation into Mr Xepapas' death.
Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Xepapas.
DATED: 23 October 2014 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.