A Coburg woman who witnessed the final moments of a man’s life before he drowned at a popular waterfall at MacKenzie Falls has called for better mobile phone reception and more signage to improve safety in the area.
Anneka Bading, 24, was swimming at MacKenzie Falls in the Grampians National Park about 5pm on Saturday when a 28-year-old man fell into the water and drowned.
The man – believed to be a Taiwanese national who lived in Australia – was found about 9.30am the next day.
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Ms Bading said the victim was with a group of about 10 people. Four of the group – including the victim – were on a rock beneath the waterfall when he fell.
“They were just playing under the waterfall on the rocks,” she said.
“They didn’t even swim there, he was sitting on the rock and must have slipped. They were having so much fun till he fell in.”
Ms Bading said she and two friends “were swimming in the pool of water right near the waterfall”.
She said she hadn't seen signs prohibiting swimming in the area. Parks Victoria says there are three.
Ms Bading was filming with her GoPro as they swam in the direction of the Taiwanese group. They can be seen in the background of her film in the moment just after the victim fell into the water.
“We got halfway out where the water was very deep, then all these people started screaming and pointing,” she said.
“At that point we had no idea what was going on. We thought some sort of animal was in the water. We couldn’t understand what was going on and they kept screaming and pointing.
“One girl grabbed my GoPro stick and tried to use it to save him. I then clicked someone was drowning.”
Ms Bading said there were more than 40 people – including an off-duty lifeguard – at the falls.
When they saw what was happening, people tried to help. But there was little they could do.
The Taiwanese group got a log and started swimming out to try and rescue the man, Ms Bading said.
“[The lifeguard] jumped in ... but he said it’s so deep and the pressure was intense,” she said.
“We all told him not to risk it. Thank God he didn’t.
“I got out of the water and tried to call triple zero, asking everyone if they had service. Not one person had service.
“Everyone didn’t know what to do and we couldn’t understand [the victim’s friends]. My legs were shaking when I knew what was going on but no one knew what to do”.
The Coburg woman said she ran up the steep flight of stairs and about one kilometre to the carpark, got in her vehicle and drove for 10 minutes before she got reception.
All the while she was frantically trying to dial triple zero and catch her breath in the stifling heat.
Ms Bading said she was told by emergency services that there was a rock shelf under the water beneath the falls, which may have trapped the man.
The 24-year-old administration and accounting worker said she was angry there was no reception and claimed there were inadequate warning signs about the rock ledge and the dangers of swimming at the falls.
Ms Bading said it was all the more galling given the tragic events of Christmas day in 2004, when four close relatives drowned at MacKenzie Falls during a family picnic.
She said she would lodge a complaint with Parks Victoria and spoke to many people who witnessed the event who were going to do the same.
She said the ordeal had left her “horrified”.
“We were swimming to where he was under the fall,” she said.
It could’ve been us. You just don’t know how powerful it is. We all cried on the way back saying how lucky we were to be alive.Anneka Bading
Parks Victoria chief operating officer Simon Talbot said there were three signs at MacKenzie Falls advising visitors that swimming was prohibited.
“We’re terribly saddened by this incident at Mackenzie Falls,” he said in a statement.
“In all of the state’s national parks and reserves it’s important for visitors to observe warning signs and the advice of park rangers.”
Mr Talbot said it was "extremely challenging" to get mobile phone reception at the base of the falls but Telstra was exploring options for coverage in the carpark.