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"Everyone went into shock": This man tried to save a drowning teenager on Sunday

WARNING: This story contains details that may distress some readers.

The site of the disappearance, Junction Reefs near Burnt Yards. Google Earth.

February 2, 2022


By Peter Holmes


UPDATED February 4: Following several days of searching, police located the body of a man – believed to be the missing swimmer – about 6pm on Thursday February 3.


Investigations into the incident are continuing and a report will be prepared for the information of the Coroner.


A man who held out a stick to try and save a teenager near the waterfall at Junction Reefs Reserve on Sunday has spoken about the terrifying experience.


Jacob Bell was in Blayney with his partner on Sunday morning when they made a last-minute decision to stop by the waterfall at Junction Reefs Reserve, about 60km south of Orange.

The spot, about 9km from Mandurama, is not widely signposted and is a bit of an insider’s secret.


“We had a little bit of a swim, but away from the waterfall, in a little lagoon, as it was way too rapid near the waterfall after the rains,” Bell told The Orange News Examiner.


“I took one look at how fast it was and was like, ‘Nah, no way’.

“A group of five fellas rocked up, I knew some of them and my partner did too.”


Bell says he advised them not to swim near the waterfall, however one of the young men decided to jump in.

“He disappeared for about 10 or 15 seconds, then surfaced and was yelling for help.


“I ran to get a stick and two of his mates jumped in.”


Bell described the two as strong swimmers but said they were unable to reach their friend and were swept away from the waterfall by the current.

“I was yelling at him to grab the stick, he was trying for dear life to hang on, but he [couldn’t], and he never came back up.”


The incident occurred around 2pm, Bell recalled.


“Everyone went into shock,” he said.


Deputy premier Paul Toole at Junction Reefs Reserve, which was reopened to the public in August 2021. Supplied.

“We didn’t know what had happened, and we thought he may be behind the waterfall. We were yelling.”


Bell said that at times it was safe to swim near the waterfall, but that at others it was treacherous.


He urged people who swim at Junction Reefs Reserve to “use your better judgement, look at the conditions, and if you’re not a strong swimmer don’t even consider it”.

The search for the missing teenager is being coordinated by NSW Police, with the Blayney SES assisting.


The SES crew is doing two daily sweeps of the area from the waterfall where the man went missing to a nearby weir, one each in the morning and afternoon.


The Belubula River was in flood on Sunday, the day before the man went missing.


“At the moment, with this rainfall, rivers, creeks and streams are very dangerous places to be, with fast moving currents and submerged objects,” said a Blayney SES spokesperson.

“The waterfall is an incredibly dangerous place, with no easy egress out of the area, which is tumultuous. You can’t see the bottom, and you can only see 15 to 20 centimetres in front of your face.”

One SES worker described the conditions at the waterfall as being like a “washing machine”.


Rescue teams have been unable to access the area near the waterfall due to the dangerous conditions.


After 30 years of being closed Junction Reefs Crown Reserve was reopened to the public last August.


At the time MP for Bathurst Paul Toole, who has since become deputy premier, said: "It's great to have Junction Reefs Reserve open again. It really is a spectacular location.

"The public can now gain access to the Belubula River Dam, the waterfall and use the newly constructed toilet block and picnic table at the viewing area."


Junction Reefs Reserve has been closed until further notice.


As the search continues, family and friends gather near where the man went missing, awaiting news.


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