Tweed River tragedy: Bodies of mother and kids found in Australian river

04 April 2017

Police divers removed the bodies of a mother and two of her children from the Tweed River, a river situated in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, Australia, on Tuesday.

On Tuesday police divers removed the bodies of a mother and two of her children from the Tweed River in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, Australia.

Stephanie King (43), from Bilambil, was still holding one of her children in her arms. The bodies of her son, Jacob (7), and eldest daughter, Ella Jane (11), were found along with hers in the SUV after she'd lost control of the vehicle on the slippery road and it had plunged into the river.    

Nine-year-old Chloe May was the only survivor. She managed to get out of the vehicle in time, swam to shore and sought help for her mother and siblings. The brave little girl had to swim through water as deep as 8 m in places.

Chloe eventually made it to the nearby house of Ben Darcy and his partner, Sabrina Colomb. “She said their SUV had just landed in the water and that her mother was still in the car,” Ben says. “She couldn’t say much, she just said, 'My mum, my little sister and my brother have gone in the river in a car'.”

Matthew Grinham, a former policeman, was driving by the river, which was in flood, when another witness told him what had happened. The witness was too upset to make sense, but then Matthew saw the skid marks of a car and realised what must have happened. He recalls the helplessness he experienced at the fact that there was nothing he could do. “We just couldn’t get to the car. There were bubbles, we could find the bubbles but we couldn’t get to the car,” he said.  

“At first we were going to go feet first, just pushing down to try and see if we could feel it with our feet. I tried a couple of times, but the bubbles, they trailed away. They just got less and less.”

The aftermath of Cyclone Debbie handicapped the search because the swollen river was full of debris. Visibility was bad and the water was very cold. This meant the search had to be continued the day after the incident, which happened on Monday.

Superintendent Wayne Starling of the local police said it wouldn’t surprise him if Stephanie helped Chloe May escape from the car. He believes the mom of three would still have been alive, had she not tried to save her children.

Chloe May sustained scratches and bruises and was admitted to the hospital where she’s being supported by her father, Matt Kabealo.

Inspector Mick Dempsey from the Tweed Byron police said a depth sounder eventually helped them find the family’s car. It was found approximately 5 m from shore.

The wreckage of the car will be sent for further investigation to determine whether a mechanical problem led to the tragedy.

Tumbulgum is one of the communities that was worst hit by Cyclone Debbie. The town, with approximately 600 residents, was placed on evacuation alert. The Tweed River burst its banks and caused damage to several homes and businesses.

 This is what the Tweed River looked like on 31 March.


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