The Fraser Island community in Queensland is in shock and questions are being asked after two Japanese teenage boys drowned in the island’s iconic Lake Mackenzie.
Police and emergency services began a search for the boys on the island, located north of Brisbane, after they were reported missing from a tour group near Lake Mackenzie about 5pm on Friday.
The bodies were found on Saturday morning in the water at the popular tourist destination in the Great Sandy National Park.
Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour told the ABC the deaths had shocked the community.
“Lake McKenzie is the postcard-perfect image of Fraser Island – it’s where all the tourists go,” Mr Seymour said.
“It’s really unimaginable how somebody, let alone two people, could drown there.
“It’s a calm lake in the middle of an island … whatever has happened is highly unusual.”
The lake, one of forty similar bodies of water on the island, is filled only by rainwater and rimmed with pure white, vegetation-free silica sand – making it a magnet for tourists.
Mornings at Lake McKenzie for a perfect start to the day! ☀️
As one of 100 freshwater lakes on #Fraserisland, we can't go past a swim in this iconic beauty! 💦💦
Experience this spectacular spot on our 1 and 2 day tours!
— FraserExplorerTours (@frasertours) March 26, 2019
The water is so pure and nutrient levels so low, because of the lack of surrounding vegetation on the infertile sands, that a dip is billed as a unique experience.
Police said the 16-year-old boys, both Japanese nationals, drowned.
The pair were discovered in the water at 8.20am on Saturday after they were reported missing about 5pm on Friday from a tour run by SeaLink Travel Group.
Jeff Ellison, the company’s chief executive, told reporters in Hervey Bay on Sunday that it was standard for the tour bus to stop at the lake where passengers were briefed before being let off for some free time.
“My understanding is that at the end of that time, five o’clock, there were two short and the tour guide identified that it was two of this group,” Mr Ellison said.
“He immediately commenced a search of the area, the toilets in the area, and as that didn’t find anything they raised the alarm to our office here.”
Police were called and staff sent from the nearby Kingfisher Bay Resort to help find the boys, who were visiting with a larger group from Kanagawa University High School in Yokohama.
The rest of the students stayed at the site while buses were sent to bring back the other passengers.
The tour group left the island on Saturday afternoon to return to Brisbane, where parents of the boys are reportedly travelling to on Sunday.
“It’s very unfortunate that this has happened, we are very sorry,” Kanagawa University High School principal Hisashi Kikuchi said.
“The two students were very bright and energetic, I think everyone liked them very much.”
“This is a tragic event, there is not doubt about that,” Inspector Tony Clowes told reporters on Saturday afternoon.
He warned there was always a risk when entering waterways, and said he did not know if the boys could swim.
“Know your abilities, be aware that if you are entering water there is some inherent risk entering waterways in this country,” he said.
A search and rescue operation involving local officers, water police and helicopters assisted in the search of the pristine “perched” lake when the alarm was raised.
— Queensland Police (@QldPolice) March 30, 2019
Police will prepare a report for the Coroner and are currently in contact with the Japanese consulate.
Inspector Clowes said it was understood the teens had not been left behind at the lake. All the details surrounding how the children were supervised would be investigated.
“We’ve looked at our protocol and we’re very comfortable with that … but it does seem a terrible, unfortunate accident,” Mr Ellison said.