Widow sues Whitsunday Regional Council over drownings in Airlie Beach Lagoon

A widow whose husband and son drowned in the Airlie Beach lagoon attraction in October 2018 is suing the Whitsunday Regional Council and its salvage contractor, claiming $4.5million damages.

Yuanwei Zhang and her son Chenxi, who could not swim, drowned together in the deeper water area of ​​the lagoon.

Zhang’s widow, Jie Tan, is now suing the Council and salvage services contractor Ellmill Enterprise Pty Ltd, claiming they failed in their duty of care – citing negligence as the cause of the deaths.

Papers filed with the Mackay court last month claim lifeguards on duty at the time of the incident failed to properly watch, were talking to each other, were distracted and failed to retrieve the father when he encountered difficulties.

The document states that “around 3:40 p.m., the deceased began to experience difficulty and wade through the water before disappearing below the surface, after which Chenxi also disappeared below the surface.

“The rescuers were standing together on the bridge less than 20 meters from where the events took place.”

Reports suggest it took six minutes before Zhang was recovered from the bottom of the lagoon and another seven minutes before the child was brought to the surface.

Neither could be revived.

The court papers go on to state that Ellmill Enterprise was required “to ensure that at least two lifeguards were based in the lagoon and were actively patrolling around the lagoon.

“And that the watch towers in place were occupied at all times or the water areas were monitored to ensure that all areas were adequately supervised.

“The second defendant failed to establish and enforce a user observation system so that reasonable precautions were taken for the safety of these individuals.”

Zhang was a senior pilot with Chongqing Airlines whose income supported his parents, as well as his immediate family.

Littles’ lawyers are seeking damages of more than 20 million yuan – about $4.5 million – to cover Zhang’s past and future income losses due to his death, past pension losses and future, financial losses for his parents and special damages.

The ABC reported that Ellmill Enterprise is no longer providing lifeguard services in the lagoon after its contract expired last year.

In November last year, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (Worksafe Queensland) took the case to Council, saying it had failed to meet its primary duty of care under the Health Act 2011 and Queensland Workplace Safety.

This case is currently adjourned.

In 2018, the family of a man who drowned at the WaterMarc facility in Melbourne’s northern suburbs reportedly took legal action against Banyule City Council and the facility operator Belgravia Leisure, alleging that the pool was not supervised appropriately.

Australasian Leisure Management understands that the legal action was unsuccessful.

Images: Yuanwei Zhang, Jie Ta and their son Chenxi before the 2018 tragedy (top, provided) and Airlie Beach Lagoon (bottom, credit: Whitsunday Regional Council).

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Elna M. Lemons