The partner of a Tasmanian newspaper deliveryman who died in floodwaters in 2016 has told an inquest of the moment she realised both of them might die.
- Peter Watson and his partner Karen Cassidy were delivering newspapers when their van got stuck in floodwaters near Evandale
- Mr Watson slipped and fell into the water after the pair climbed on top of the van to escape, Ms Cassidy says
- The inquest also heard from several police officers involved in the search
A joint inquest has begun into the deaths of Peter John Watson and Trevor Foster, who died in floodwaters in separate incidents six years ago.
It will explore the emergency response to the floods and the contribution of water flows from Hydro Tasmania’s catchments.
A report has already found inflows did not contribute.
Mr Watson, 63, was delivering newspapers when his van got stuck in floodwaters near Evandale.
The Hobart Coroner’s Court heard Mr Watson had had a “bad run with flooding” the day before and was a bit concerned about going out.
His partner of nine years, Karen Cassidy, decided to join him on his route to help out.
‘You know we’re going to die, don’t you?’
The court heard that while the rain had been “bucketing” the day prior, on June 6, it was only lightly drizzling.
The pair were able to do a few deliveries before they encountered water flowing across the road. There were no signs indicating the road was closed.
As they drove, the water began to rise, and Ms Cassidy said she could feel its force pushing the van to the right. They tried to steer it to keep it on the road.
The inquest heard that water began to enter the van and rise, the pair decided to call their family, worried it might be their last chance to speak to them.
They managed to climb on top of the van, where Ms Cassidy said to Mr Watson: “You know we’re going to die, don’t you?”
Water began gushing around them, and as the van moved again, Mr Watson slipped and went face down.
That was the last time Ms Cassidy saw him. She tried calling out to him but heard nothing.
Body found weeks later
In an attempt to get help, Ms Cassidy took off one of her shirts and set it on fire with a lighter, waving it around until it went out.
As the van slipped, Ms Cassidy launched herself into the water.
“I was trying to swim,” she said in her statement to police.
She said she became surrounded by debris, which blocked her in, allowing her to climb up on it and use it as a raft.
She remained there for a couple of hours until she was rescued by police.
Police continued to search for Mr Watson.
His body was found almost two weeks later just downriver from where the van came into trouble.
At the inquest today, Ms Cassidy became emotional as she talked about her former partner.
“He was a lovely fella,” she said.
Officer found Cassidy after calls for help heard
The inquest also heard from several police officers involved in the search.
Former police officer Sam Lloyd, who was called in to help, told the court that in his search for the couple, he came across the fast-flowing floodwaters.
He stopped the car, left his headlights on high beam and walked towards the water, but he was not able to see anything.
Mr Lloyd, who would also later briefly get trapped in floodwaters, was the first to find Ms Cassidy after a man reported hearing calls for help near his property.
At the inquest today, Mr Lloyd became upset, telling the inquest he wondered if he should have initially tried to cross the floodwaters.
Coroner Simon Cooper consoled him and thanked him for his service.
“I don’t think you could’ve possibly done any more than you did, and had you tried that, I think we would’ve been having a fourth inquest,” he said.
The inquest continues tomorrow with witnesses to give evidence about the death of Trevor Foster.
A second inquest will be held in September to examine the death of the third flood victim, Mary Allford.