Search crews have located the bodies of a policewoman and an international student who were pulled into a whirlpool while canyoning in the Blue Mountains.
The pair were with eight others on a canyoning tour when they disappeared beneath the water’s surface in Wollangambe Canyon at Mount Wilson yesterday.
One of the women was confirmed to be 39-year-old NSW Police officer Senior Constable Kelly Foster, who was recently stationed at Lithgow Police Station.
The other is a Chinese international student from Chiswick.
Initial reports from witnesses indicated the younger woman was tipped off her inflatable lilo when it swept into a whirlpool.
Senior Constable Foster was then also pulled under by the current when she attempted to rescue the other canyoner.
Speaking from Mount Wilson and Mount Irvine rural fire brigade station, where crews had established a forward command, NSW Police Chief Inspector Peter Schienflug said the loss has been “traumatising” for Senior Constable Foster’s colleagues.
“She was a well-respected and well-liked member of the police force,” the chief inspector said.
“It’s true traditions of the NSW Police that it’s service above self and it’s a common line we’re quite often first responders [who] run towards danger as other people run from it.”
Because of the remote location, police weren’t informed the pair were missing until 2:30pm yesterday.
The chief inspector said the terrain was difficult to navigate after heavy rain and it took one of the other members of the group 45 minutes of walking out of the canyon before they were able to get a phone signal.
Due to poor weather conditions, the initial search for the women was suspended about 6:00pm yesterday and police were out in force again at first light today.
The canyon, according to locals, is relatively safe but recent rainfall had caused those water levels to rise. It is unclear to authorities if this was a contributing factor to the pair’s death.
A helicopter is being arranged to collect the bodies and several rescuers remain with the pair inside the canyon.
“It’s a tragedy for both families and their extended families including the work family, so a small station where you work with the same people more frequently there’s probably a tighter bond and it’s going to hurt,” chief inspector Schienflug said.
Police said the younger woman is yet to be formally identified and is waiting for confirmation that her family in China have been notified.
It’s understood she had close friends in Australia with whom she worked and studied.
The other members of the group were unharmed.