Investigators are starting to piece together exactly how a fit teenage fisherman died at Wentworth Falls Lake last week.
A combination of the cold water and being weighed down by heavy cargo pants, as well as lungs full of water, is believed to have led to the death of popular Springwood High School HSC student, Michael “Mikey” Ryall of Lawson.
Mikey, 16, drowned while on a fishing trip with his 15-year-old brother at Wentworth Falls Lake.
Emergency services were called to the spillway at the lake just after 5pm last Wednesday (April 23) and started searching for his body, which was found 34 metres from the bank about 10.30pm.
Officers from Police Rescue, the Diving Unit, Marine Area Command, and Blue Mountains took part in the search.
The teen’s distraught family remained at the lake while emergency services searched into the night.
Detective Superintendent Darryl Jobson said the brothers had “actually caught a fish, unhooked the fish and placed the fish on a rock near the water’s edge”.
“The fish has somehow managed to re-enter the water and appeared fatigued. Michael has then entered the water and a short time later has got into some difficulty.
“His 15-year-old brother and another fisherman not connected with the brothers entered the water. They actually got to Michael and were able to take hold of him but unfortunately he could not be saved and disappeared under the water. Out of concern for their own safety his brother and the other fisherman had returned to shore.”
Mikey was semi-clothed when he entered the water. He had removed his top but kept his long cargo pants on and had swum out 34 metres.
Police don’t believe he was tangled in anything in the water but divers estimate the water was five metres deep and the temperature 16 degrees.
A police source told the Gazette that “had it been summer and the water one or two degrees warmer, it could have been different”.
“He’s called out to his brother that he was in trouble, he wasn’t a really strong swimmer and he’s gone under a few times and taken a lot of water. I think the water just got to him, because it was cold.”
The police officer said lungs filled with water significantly added to body weight, coupled with heavy and wet long pants.
More than 30 floral tributes, a cricket bat and ball and dozens of candles and messages flanked the spillway at the lake earlier this week, with nightly vigils held to keep the candles alight.
The Gazette understands a funeral service will be held on Thursday near the teenager’s school, at the Salvation Army Hall in Francis Rd, Faulconbridge, after 10.30am.
Springwood High School will have additional support in place this week to help students and staff returning from the Easter break.
The school said Mikey “was held in the highest regard by his teachers and his peers ... his friendly, outgoing character endeared him to others”, adding he would “readily lend a helping hand to anyone in need”.
“He was always polite, respectful and concerned about the well being of those around him. He was, as the Australian vernacular would have it, a ‘dinkum’ young man.”
Parents concerned about their children were being encouraged to contact the school counsellor.
Friends have posted messages on social network sites paying tribute to the young man.
His girlfriend of eight months, Cassie Dennis, posted: “I love you more than the moon loves the stars, plants love the sun and fish love the water. Thank you for being there for me, I will never forget you Mikey Ryall. You are my whole world.”
And Lindsey Pacchini wrote: “Every line I cast from now on will be in honor of you”.
Cassie’s mother, Sandra Dennis, remembered Mikey as genuine and wise beyond his years. “He really was the boy next door, he treated our girl with so much love,” Mrs Dennis said.
“He was very, very devoted to his parents. He was a fantastic role model to his brother, he doted on his little brother”.
Mrs Dennis said Mikey played cricket for Penrith and was a talented fast bowler.
Penrith Cricket Club president Ross Graham told the Gazette: “All at Penrith Cricket Club were saddened to hear of the tragic death of Michael ... a well-liked young man who was passionate about his cricket. His cricket career was burgeoning and he was in our Green Shield Development Squad for the coming season.”
The Blue Mountains community have rallied behind the family with more than $5000 raised at an event organised by Mikey’s close friend, Hazelbrook butcher Jacob Killeen, on Saturday. More than 300 teens attended a barbecue outside the butcher’s, which donated more than $700 in meat on the day.
Jacob Killeen said “being very close to the Ryall family like I am I know they are so thankful for each and every one of you who is showing them your support”. Donations can still be made at Hazelbrook Butchery.
The owner of the butchery, Andrew Giri, said the barbecue gave Mikey’s friends a chance to “talk to each other to help get through it” and to show the family they were supported and not alone.
A report will be prepared for the coroner but the death is not being treated as suspicious, police said.
– with Ilsa Cunningham and SMH