A Sydney family have disputed claims a father-of-five didn’t know how to swim after he died at a man-made beach on Boxing Day.
Seti Tuaopepe, 35, was paddle boarding with three of his children 20 metres from shore when he drowned at Penrith Beach at Castlereagh, in Sydney’s west, a week after the site opened to the public.
Speaking to A Current Affair on Monday, Seti’s wife Mina said her husband had taken their daughters Celeste, 12, Zaynah, six, and son Romney, four, into the water with a newly-purchased paddled board.
“We could see them from where we were until … things took a turn for the worst,” she told the program.
Mina said Celeste was swimming alongside the paddle board when Zaynah leaned over the board to join her sister in the water, causing it to ‘flip over’.
Celeste and her father quickly helped the two younger children back onto the board, before Celeste felt her father’s hand on her shoulder.
“It was as if he was shivering and gasping for air,” Mina said.
“Just trying to reach up and hold onto something.”
Celeste managed to make her way onto the board but she couldn’t help her father who eventually disappeared under the water.
Rejecting rumours about her husband’s death, Mina said Seti was a competent swimmer having grown up in Samoa.
“Swimming is mandatory … You need to learn how to swim to survive,” she said.
“I’m just trying to grasp the idea of him struggling because, like I said, he was a good swimmer.”
“I hope that nothing under … he didn’t get caught under … I hope that wasn’t the case.”
She explained her husband had no medical issues and recently underwent a health check for his work.
It was also reported that Seti took his kids outside the patrolled swimming area, however, A Current Affair reported paddle boards weren’t permitted in the swimming zone.
While Mina said the incident was “no one’s fault”, she questioned whether there were adequate safety precautions at the beach.
“I do thank the lifeguards for their efforts and everybody, like I said, but, again, a lot of things could have been done better,” Mina said.
Two week’s on from Seti’s death, Mina has praised her husband as “family man” and “hero”.
“He sacrificed his own life to make sure that our children were safe.”
“Their dad was thinking of them, you know, even until his last breath.”
She said Celeste is coping with the tragic loss but the ordeal was “very traumatic” for the 12-year-old.
Despite the death, there are no plans to change safety protocols at the beach, which was built on the site of an old quarry at a cost of around $1.7m.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning and Environment told the Sydney Mornng Herald Penrith Beach was developed following a detailed risk assessment in partnership with the Royal Life Saving Society.
The coroner is still working to determine what happened.
In the meantime, Mina said she is focusing on herself and her children as she looks to the family’s “very uncertain future”.
“It does weigh heavily on my mind … him not being here physically for us.”