THE emotional mother of children saved in dangerous surf by a heroic stranger who lost his life says she doesn’t know how to thank him.
Shaun Oliver, a father of three, drowned when he jumped into treacherous waters to help a man try to save his kids who were struggling in the rough conditions.
“He’s a father and a husband too. He lost his life. I don’t know what we can say to his family,” an emotional Islam Hammed said at her Wollongong home today.
“I can’t find the words to thank him, because thank you is just a little word.”
Ironically, Mr Oliver, a shop fitter, was in Wollongong for work and was to return to Melbourne on Friday but had to unexpectedly extend the trip to today due to delays with the project.
His sister Amie De Battista paid tribute to her brother, telling the Herald Sun: “We are extremely shattered with the loss of Shaun.”
Godfather and uncle Ralph Silver said: “He was just a selfless person. He just looked after everyone.
“He looked after other people before himself. He just wouldn’t have thought twice about it, especially with kids involved. Those kids and the father in the surf; they are lucky it was Shaun up there.”
Islam and her husband were at the beach yesterday with their six children Yazan, Ahmed, Nadim, Rayan, Yamen and Leyan when their four boys jumped in the water at the beach which was closed due to dangerous conditions. The boys quickly got into trouble.
The 32-year-old Victorian father of three was walking on the beach when he raced into the treacherous water at Wollongong City Beach yesterday after noticing children struggling in the water.
The Wollongong father of the children had managed to get his two younger children to shore but the two older children, aged 10 and 12, got dragged further out in a rip.
“Two of them got inside (the water) and he ran in and jumped in. He got one of them, then went back to save the other one and he couldn’t, he died,” said Mrs Hammed.
An off-duty paramedic, who was at the beach with his wife, managed to pull the 10-year-old boy to shore.
Mr Oliver got into trouble reaching the eldest child. A surfer reached the pair and got the boy to shore but the struggling Mr Oliver was swept further out.
“The surfboard man saved him,” she said, adding her husband had spoken to him and thanked him.
Three police officers swam out to reach the father of three and pulled him from the water. He was given CPR at the beach but died in hospital.
When asked why the children were in the water at the closed beach, Hammad said the family, which is originally from Palestine, didn’t know any better.
“The police said no flags, no swim but we didn’t know that rule. There was nobody here telling us,” she said.
“A (man) has died as a result of his heroic efforts to rescue four children from the surf,” Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth of Wollongong Local Area Command said today.
“I believe he was just walking along the beach and he has just acted. There was an off-duty paramedic there as well with his wife and young child. He put himself at risk and did some remarkable things,” he said.
Det Insp Ainsworth said the tragedy had cut the community “pretty deep”.
Mr Oliver’s uncle Ralph Silver said: “He did his best and the kids are all fine, the father is all fine. He has given his life for others which doesn’t surprise me.
“He was meant to fly back Friday night to see his kids and his wife Carla but the job got delayed so he was asked to stay up until today so fate has it that it was just all meant to have been. It’s tragic.
“There is a family in Sydney that has got all their kids and their father; they are all alive and they are euphoric.
“Yet a complete stranger has allowed them to have a future and that stranger - good Samaraitan, hero, whatever you want to call him - has now got a family who is just left to pick up the pieces.”
Det Insp Ainsworth expressed his frustration that Surf Life Saving’s long-running message continues to be ignored in some segments of the community.
“No flags, no swim. It’s a simple message, but it just doesn’t get through.”
He said the family who were saved by Mr Oliver were naive to the conditions.
“Would I say they knew about the surf? I would say no. It was treacherous, heavy surf. You’ve got ticks against everything why you shouldn’t be in the water. Unfortunately they did enter in the water and it’s resulted in the death of a hero,” he said.
“The beach was closed, there was a drag. Three police from our local area command stripped off and put themselves at risk too,” he added.
“Shaun has sacrificed his future happiness and shared life with wife Carla and three beautiful children to do what none of us hope to do in this lifetime … be tested,” his brother Nathanael said.
“Sadly not long before their 10-year anniversary, Shaun was faced with an ultimatum. He chose to protect those who could not protect themselves.
“It might look picturesque and tame but there is quite a strong undercurrent and tow,” a spokesman said.
“Inexperienced people need to heed the warnings and don’t go into the water.”