Friends, family hail ‘hero’ who drowned trying to rescue child

A Melbourne father of three, who drowned while rescuing a child from rough waters at a beach in NSW, has been hailed as a hero.

Shaun Oliver, 32, died while trying to rescue a 12-year-old child, who was caught in a rip at Wollongong’s City Beach, on Sunday afternoon.

Police said four young children ventured into the ocean about 4.30pm.

City Beach had been closed by surf lifesavers, due to the treacherous conditions.

Mr Oliver was walking on the beach, when he noticed the children were struggling to swim.

Two of the children were saved from the water by their father, but the others – aged 10 and 12 – became caught in a rip and were dragged further into the ocean.

An off-duty paramedic came to the rescue of the 10-year-old boy, bringing him to shore.

Mr Oliver went after the 12-year-old, when he became caught in the rough water himself.

A nearby surfer, Tom Parkinson, 22, helped the child to shore, but Mr Oliver was swept out to sea.

Mr Parkinson was eating lunch on the beach with his girlfriend when he saw Mr Oliver and the boy.

“I had a board in the back of the car, so I chucked on my boardies and ran down the beach,” he said.

“The waves were brutal, big white wash, big rips, I couldn’t believe anyone would go out there.”

He said the boy was screaming when he paddled up to him.

“Waves were crashing on his head and he’d go under. I grabbed him, put him on the board and then chucked him on his feet on the sandbank.”

Mr Parkinson, a local musician, went back out to look for the second person he saw, but it was too late. Mr Oliver was gone.

‘I’m just happy the kids are okay, but I can’t imagine what Shaun’s family are going through,” he said.

“He didn’t have a board and he still paddled out, so he did the far greater thing, he’s the real hero.”

Three police officers brought Mr Oliver onto the beach. Paramedics tried CPR and he was taken to Wollongong Hospital, where he later died.

“It’s a heroic act and it’s unfortunately cost him his life,” Wollongong Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth said.

“I believe he was just walking along the beach and he’s just acted. The beach was closed, there was a heavy surf, there was a drag, there was a current, all the conditions there that you just, you don’t go in.”

Mr Oliver’s uncle and godfather, Ralph Silver, said he had come from a family of SES and CFA volunteers.

“He was a very adequate swimmer, very healthy, loved his footy, sport,” Mr Silver told 3AW Drive. “He’s so selfless, it wouldn’t have even entered his mind not to go in and help.”

Mr Oliver, from Craigeburn, had been in NSW for a week of work and was due to fly back on Monday.

He was a loving father of three children aged three to seven and had been with his wife, Carla, since high school.

His uncle said it was a “strange feeling”, the mix of pride in his nephew’s sacrifice to save another and devastation for those he left behind.

“The whole family is just in total shock. They’ve got the rest of their lives without their dad, I don’t know how they are going to get through it.”

The rescued children’s mother, Islam Hammad, praised Mr Oliver’s final heroic act.

“I can’t find the words to thank them (Mr Oliver’s family),” she told Channel Seven.

“To give everything that he has, even he didn’t think about his family and children, and he went to save someone else’s child.

“I feel terrible for myself that I couldn’t save him, I couldn’t save my son, I couldn’t do anything.

“He is a hero and and I’m sure he’s very happy in the place he is now. I hope Allah gives them patience and mercy to his family and his children and wife.”

One of the rescued children, Yazan Hammad, said he was playing around in the water when his brother started to get dragged out.

“I’m so sorry, we didn’t mean for him to jump in,” he told Channel Nine. “He was really brave.”

Mr Oliver, a shopfitter by trade, was a project manager at Lynbrook store Ramvek.

He had worked for the company for almost 14 years and was on a business trip to Wollongong when he died.

He graduated from Chandler High School in Keysborough in 2002.

School friend Joel Tranquille said: “He was a great friend to everyone, you wouldn’t be able to find a single person that would tell you otherwise”.

“It’s never easy when you hear about a friend passing when he is still so young, especially a great bloke like Shaun,” Mr Tranquille said.

Another high school friend, Lisa Pountney, said Mr Oliver “would talk to everyone, even socially awkward people”.

“(He) would make you laugh or smile if you were sad, he would always put others before himself, he was a bright and loveable guy,” she said.

A GoFundMe page, set up by his cousin Nathanael Oliver, has already raised about $12,500 to support Mr Oliver’s young family, for which he was the sole income earner. Mr Oliver was an avid supporter of Keysborough Football Club, playing in senior and junior leagues up until 2008.

Friend and Keysborough senior coach Matt Ferguson said the club would wear black armbands in Mr Oliver’s honour at their preliminary final game on Saturday.

“He was a very well-liked person around the club, he was one of those supporters who was never negative, a really fantastic person,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone has ever spoken a bad word about him.”

Mr Ferguson said he was not surprised that Mr Oliver died while trying to save the lives of others.

“It’s no surprise that he would put himself in that situation and without question would do what he did,” he said.

In a Facebook comment, his sister Clare Murray wrote “we are all shattered”.

“My brother … the ultimate hero. We cannot believe this has happened … a loss that will be felt by many,” she wrote.

Surf Life Saving Illawarra duty officer Daren Weidner said there had been waves of between three and four metres off the coast in Wollongong.

Inspector Ainsworth said, if not for Mr Oliver’s heroic actions, “you could potentially be talking about two or three” more drownings.

“It’s a tragic loss of life,” he said. “It really puts individuals that come to the aid of people in danger, and it’s the ultimate sacrifice I suppose.

“It’s a timely reminder, that you swim between the flags, [at] patrolled beaches only.”

With Illawarra Mercury

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