UPDATE 2.30PM: POLICE have worked tirelessly to retrieve the bodies of a mother and her two children from their vehicle after it crashed into the Tweed River yesterday.

Tweed Byron LAC Superintendent Wayne Starling said the nine-year-old girl who survived the horrendous accident was extremely brave trying to save her family as she flagged down another vehicle passing.

"About 1.30pm yesterday afternoon a woman was driving her three children in a white iMax. The vehicle's lost control and as it's clipped it's gone into the Tweed River," Supt Starling said.

"A nine-year-old girl got out of the vehicle and made her way to shore and sounded the alarm, a very brave little girl. She had injuries to her feet trying to get out. The main focus was trying to save the mum and her brother and sister."

Supt Starling said from what the divers have discovered, the mother tried everything she could to save her children.

"The mother was a remarkable woman," Supt Starling said.

"She died trying to save the child. Whilst the matter is going through the coroner, I've got no doubt that woman is a hero and she'd be alive today if she wasn't trying to save the child."

"The mother was trying to get one of her children out of the vehicle when she passed away."

There have been mixed reports the road was open at the time the mother and her children were driving along Dulguigan Rd.

Supt Starling said he couldn't confirm whether the road was closed at the time of the accident but the police were speaking with the Tweed Shire Council to learn more.

"We're not putting any blame on the mother," Supt Starling said

"There are barricades further up but they weren't on the roadway last night."

Supt Starling said the four police divers who worked to retrieve the bodies and the car faced difficult conditions and had to swim through black water to feel their way around the wreckage.

"It's a horrible operation,' he said.

"They put their lives at risk to recover the bodies today.

"Whilst we  located the vehicle yesterday by sonar, the divers when it was dark water could only locate the vehicle by hand and it was very difficult and dangerous to extract the young ones and the mother from the vehicle.

"They were worried about the vehicle moving even after we tied it off they were still concerned it moving further."

Supt Starling said the divers and entire retrieval team were trying to come to terms with what they saw during the operation.

"The divers that were involved have children about the same age and many of the police, ambulance and fire brigade many have children about eh same age as well," he said.

"We can't imagine what the family is going through or what their school friends are going through. The thoughts of the entire police services and the other emergency services that were there today are with the family and the loved ones it's just horrific."

Supt Starling said he wanted to thank Tweed residents and was humbled by their sense of community, especially after the floods.

"I've found with the floods, when devastation happens the community really, really comes really close together," he said.

"They've been hit so hard in the last week, harder than many communities I've ever come across have been hit. They've been flooded, they've lost loved ones and in these circumstances, I just can't imagine what they're going through.

"It's just a horrible, horrible week."

The police have now removed the family's vehicle from the river after an extensive retrieval process was carried out. 

1.20PM: THE car involved in a tragic crash, which led to a mother and her children drowning in the Tweed River yesterday, will be removed from water at 2pm today - provided plans are not obstructed by the weather or flood waters. 

Stephanie King and her family.
Stephanie King and her family.

12.30pm: The bodies of a Bilambil mother and her two children have been retrieved from the Tweed River.

Police are now working on removing the vehicle from the river after it plunged into the water around 1.40pm yesterday, while travelling in an easterly direction along Dulguigan Rd at Tumbulgum..

Police divers were called in from Sydney to remove the three bodies, who had been trapped in the car when it sunk.

One daughter escaped the sinking vehicle to raise the alarm with nearby residents.

A crane is being used to winch the vehicle out of the water.

 

EARLIER:

THE young family whose car careered into the swollen Tweed River, northern NSW yesterday have been identified.

They are Stephanie King, 43, of Bilambil, her seven-year-old son Jacob Kabealo and her 11-year-old daughter Ella-Jane Kabealo.

King's eight-year-old daughter Chloe miraculously escaped the car as it was washed into the swollen water and has been discharged from Tweed Heads Hospital.

Tributes have been flowing for Stephanie King and her two children following the horrific accident.

One friend wrote on social media, "It makes me sick knowing a beautiful family is still in the water, such a precious loss to all that knew you, I know I will miss you terribly".

A woman who said she was Ms King's 'best friend' was too distraught to speak about the mother-of-three this morning.

Ms King's Facebook says she worked as an assistant in nursing at Opal Aged Care in Tweed Heads, previously working at the Tweed Heads Bowls Club.

It says she is originally from New Zealand.

Jacob and Chloe. Jacob along with sibling Ella-Jane and their mother Stephanie died when the car they were travelling in was washed away in the Tweed River on Monday. Chloe survived the accident.
Jacob and Chloe. Jacob along with sibling Ella-Jane and their mother Stephanie died when the car they were travelling in was washed away in the Tweed River on Monday. Chloe survived the accident.

One neighbour Steven Moller said he would often say hello to Ms King outside her home and his heart went out to the family.

"They were a perfectly normal family, I would see her loading her kids into the car," he said.

"I only saw her the other day."

Police divers from Sydney arrived at the crash scene just after 10am in a helicopter to begin the retrieval operation.

The family are feared drowned after their car veered off the muddy Dulguigan Road in Tumbulgum into the surging Tweed River on Monday afternoon in the flood-ravaged region.

Tweed Byron LAC Chief Inspector Mick Dempsey said the car had been located using sonar equipment, about five metres from the northern bank of the river.

"I think it's gone from a rescue operation to a recovery operation," he said.

A witness says Chloe was hysterical at the scene. "She was screaming that her mum, little sister and older brother had gone into the river in the car," witness Thomas Grinham said.

Tweed Byron LAC Chief Inspector Mick Dempsey said the surviving girl suffered only scratches and cuts but no life-threatening injuries.

"She's obviously traumatised by the incident," Insp Dempsey told ABC radio.

"It's reported the road the car was travelling on was closed and covered in flood debris, but locals had been using to get to homes in the area."

The tragedy takes the death toll from Cyclone Debbie and the ensuing floods in NSW and Queensland to eight.

 

Tweed triple fatality: 'Road wasn't closed' says worker

A MOTHER who died alongside two of her children after her car entered the Tweed River, was driving on an open road, according to a traffic controller working on the scene.

It comes as NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Jeff Loy said the road had been closed at the time of the incident due to debris and mud on the stretch.

"We really understand that people want to get to where they need to be, but this is an extreme event," he said. "This is about heeding the warnings of the road closures."
 

But Murwillumbah traffic controller Peter Freeman said he was at Tumbulgum to help police control the roads last night, adding the road was open to vehicles before the triple fatality.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said a "road closed" sign was in place when police arrived at the scene on Monday, but that "the exact circumstances surrounding the crash will be investigated by officers".

Mr Freeman said there many people trying to drive along Dulgaigun Rd after the accident - with the road now closed -- with many getting frustrated they were denied access.

"They just ignore it and drive through thinking they can get through to home," he said.

"One guy just wanted to argue and I said I can't let you through because it's a crime scene but he just drove through."
 

Mr Freeman was not the only one who remembers the road being open at the time of the crash.

A family friend who asked not to be identified, contacted the Tweed Daily News to say the same.

She added that the family were "very special people in the community".

Others took to social media and talkback radio segments to say the road was open at the time.
 

Matt Grinham and son Thomas Grinham, 15, use a depth sounder to locate the car in the river.
Matt Grinham and son Thomas Grinham, 15, use a depth sounder to locate the car in the river.

Mr Freeman has been on the scene of the unimaginable tragedy despite his family having also lost everything in the flood.

"I came out last night because I'm the only one who's got a ticket to do traffic control," he said.

"I put my hand up to come down to do it. I know how hard it is for these guys to come down and dive.

"I know it's hard to get down here when my two kids were saying 'No Dad you're not going', but I just got in my overalls which have to be white so people can see them and I just came down to where the crime scene is and I was stopping cars there.

 

Three dead in Tweed River tragedy.
Three dead in Tweed River tragedy. Glenn Hampson

 

Mr Freeman said it was extremely difficult to know there were children involved in the accident.

"I've seen so many accidents in the past as a traffic controller and I've pulled up to help with my own time because if there's a kid in there," Mr Freeman said.
 

The search for the sunken car with a mother and two children inside.
The search for the sunken car with a mother and two children inside. Glenn Hampson

Mr Freeman said there many people trying to drive along Dulgaigun Rd after the accident, with many getting frustrated they were denied access.

"They just ignore it and drive through thinking they can get through to home," he said.

"One guy just wanted to argue and I said I can't let you through because it's a crime scene but he just drove through."
 

The scene of the tragedy at Tumbulgum.
The scene of the tragedy at Tumbulgum.

Mr Freeman said as soon the vehicle is removed from the river he will leave to head back to his family and continue rebuilding their lives.

"Once I see that car come out I've just got to walk away," he said.

"I just feel sorry for the little one that got out and the dad. I'm just blessed I've got my two boys."

 

 

Flood horror: Three feared dead in Tweed River tragedy

THE bodies of a mother and two of her children were last night believed to be entombed in their car at the bottom of the swollen Tweed River in flood-stricken northern NSW after police gave up trying to retrieve them before nightfall.

The car veered off Dulguigan Rd in Tumbulgum near the NSW-Queensland border about 1.40pm yesterday and plunged into the murky water, sinking almost immediately.

Miraculously, the woman's eldest daughter managed to escape and swim to shore, where she ran to a nearby house to raise the alarm.

"She was screaming that her mum, little sister and older brother had gone into the river in the car," witness Thomas Grinham said.

The tragedy takes the death toll from Cyclone Debbie and the ensuing floods in NSW and Queensland to eight.

It was unclear why the woman was driving on the road because it had been closed due to damage and ­debris from the cyclone.

Former police officer Matthew Grinham raced with his son Thomas, 15, and daughter ­Sophie, 12, to help, but the car had vanished below the surface of the river.

Mr Grinham dived into the water and frantically searched for the car, but to no avail.

"The helplessness of not being able to find the car, the bubbles were there, we could find the bubbles, we just couldn't get to the car," a distraught Mr Grinham said.

"They didn't have a chance. It was just too deep, too cold. As soon as you opened your eyes underwater it was horrendous. It was freezing cold."

The occupants of the house where the girl raised the alarm, Ben Darcy and his partner Sabrina Colomb, also spoke of their deep shock at what had happened.

Mr Darcy and his brother-in-law also leapt into the murky, flood-swollen river to try to rescue the family.

"It was just too deep," Mr Darcy said. "We just couldn't get down far enough. We swam around and dived down but we couldn't see a thing."
 


Mr Grinham said the muddy water from the flooding made seeing impossible.

"It was hard to keep swimming against the current. You had to keep coming up," he said. "At first we were going 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."

His son Thomas said: "We pulled up just after the car went under, and there was a little girl running along the road ... she was screaming that her mum, little sister and older brother had gone into the river in the car," he said.

"She couldn't say much, she just said my mum, my little sister and my brother have gone in the river in a car."

Emergency services are at the scene after a car plunged into the Tweed River at Tumbulgum.  Rescuers are searching for passengers believed to be in the water.
Emergency services are at the scene after a car plunged into the Tweed River at Tumbulgum. Rescuers are searching for passengers believed to be in the water. Scott Powick

The girl who escaped was taken to Tweed Heads District Hospital with cuts and lacerations to her lower legs as well as neck pain. She was being cared for last night by family members.

After he gave up the underwater search, Mr Grinham took his tinnie out with a depth-sounder to make sure he knew the exact position of the car. "We fish the area regularly, so we know there isn't really anything else through there," he said.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Jeff Loy said the road had been closed because debris and mud made the surface treacherous.

"We really understand that people want to get to where they need to be, but this is an extreme event," he said. "This is about heeding the warnings of the road closures."

News Corp Australia

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