Minister blows whistle on water safety ahead of Australia Day heat, amid spate of drownings

Victorians have been warned to stay safe over the Australia Day long weekend as temperatures soar and the state marks its worst summer drowning toll on record.

A man in his 40s is the latest to die in Victorian waters after he, a woman and a teenage boy were thrown out of their tinnie off Darriman, in Victoria's east, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Terry Chandler drowned after his tinnie capsized at a beach in East Gippsland.Credit:Nine News

The woman and teen were able to make it to shore, but 42-year-old Terry Chandler did not. He was found by the police air wing in waters off McLoughlins Beach, about 60 kilometres from Traralgon, but was unable to be revived.

Mr Chandler was remembered as a good man with a great sense of humour, Nine News reported. Wednesday was his birthday.

Bernadette Matthews, from Life Saving Victoria, said there had been 40 drownings since July 1, compared to 34 in the entire previous financial year. Among the 40 people who had died, 13 were under the age of 14 and eight were under five. Five of the drownings occurred in the past week.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said authorities were preparing for a "challenging" weekend, with some of the highest temperatures seen so far this summer and severe fire-danger ratings for the north of the state.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 38 degrees on Sunday and 31 on Monday in Melbourne. In the north at Mildura, a three-day run of temperatures over 40 degrees is tipped to start on Saturday, peaking at 45 degrees on Sunday.

Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said Life Saving Victoria had been involved in more than 326 rescues since November.

"This weekend is going to be one of our warmest weekends and it's a long weekend," she said.

"We know we're going to have thousands and thousands of people heading to our beaches and our waterways.

"Unfortunately, we have seen since July 1 our worst period in Victoria's history in terms of drowning numbers. In the past seven days, we've had five people lose their lives. That's a significant number of people in a week. All of these are preventable deaths."

The state's latest drowning comes after a four-year-old Doveton girl, who was pulled unconscious from a lake on January 13, died.

The girl is one of four people who died as a result of water incidents on January 13 after drownings at Rye front beach, Bushrangers Bay and Venus Bay.

Lisa Mandeltort, a teacher at Nossal High School in Berwick, was one of those who drowned that day.

Ms Mandeltort, who died as she helped rescue a 14-year-old girl in Venus Bay on the South Gippsland coast, has been remembered by her family and colleagues as an inspiring mentor.

The teacher was able to help the teen and another man make it safely back to shore, but ended up in distress herself and was unable to be resuscitated after being pulled from the water.

In another dramatic rescue attempt on the Mornington Peninsula, 45-year-old postal worker Aida Hamed lost her life after being swept off rocks by a wave at Bushrangers Bay.

Chris, a chief lifeguard and volunteer lifesaver at Portsea who was involved in the Bushrangers Bay rescue, implored people to be careful around the water, even if they weren't intending to swim.

"These people weren't planning to be in the water that day, they were planning on going out to look at the rock pools," he said.

Last Wednesday, Life Saving Victoria general manager Liam Kirge said beachgoers emerging from restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic needed to take extra caution.

"What we've got to remember is that during restrictions there were 5 million-odd swimming lessons that were missed and [swimmers'] fitness probably wasn't where it may have been," Mr Krige said.

"We've had a really busy summer this year and seen incidents right across Victoria's coastline … it highlights the need to remain vigilant around water – it's really easy to become complacent.

"We are just the rescue element – we need to encourage people to keep themselves safe before they get to that point."

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