Residents and tourists shocked at deaths in 'pristine' lake
WHAT was meant to be the trip of a lifetime has turned into a living nightmare for two families on the other side of the world.
Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island, famed for its pristine waters, white sandy beach and safe, calm swimming conditions, claimed the lives of two 16-year-old Japanese students.
Visitors were shocked when the lake was closed for several hours and police descended on the island at the weekend.
Police, including divers and dog squad officers, joined a helicopter and volunteer search through Friday night.
The search led to the boys' bodies being discovered at 8.20am on Saturday.
Both students had previously been reported missing from their tour group at 5pm on Friday.
The boys attended Kanagawa University High School in Japan and were on exchange in Australia.
The school has an exchange program with Caloundra City Private School, on the Sunshine Coast.
It is understood the families of the two boys are flying to Australia from Japan to recover their bodies.
Residents reported hearing ambulance sirens on Friday night as emergency services desperately search for the two boys.
One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Chronicle he saw one of the rangers organising supplies for the search.
"He seemed very serious and concerned, I knew there was something wrong straight away," the resident said.
A hearse was moved onto the island on Saturday to transport the bodies back to the mainland.
Speaking to the Chronicle in Hervey Bay on Saturday, Inspector Anthony Clowes from Maryborough Patrol Group said early investigations indicated nothing suspicious about the boys' deaths.
"This is a tragic event, there is no doubt about that," Insp Clowes said. "Certainly it would be confronting for all the persons involved including emergency services who responded."
He said the incident served as a reminder for all swimmers to "know their abilities" around waterways.
A full report is being prepared for the coroner in the wake of the tragedy.
News of the tragic event has sent ripples through the community and island staff.
But along the banks of the popular tourist spot, it seemed like nothing had changed as families spent the afternoon frolicking in the water. The Chronicle spoke with several families staying on the island, who expressed disbelief at the turn of events.
Brisbane tourists Pilar and Michael Doughty were celebrating their 24th wedding anniversary at Lake McKenzie on Saturday when they were informed of the tragedy.
"It must be awful for the family," Ms Doughty said.
"It's hard to believe something like this was happening here."
Anthony Stave, visiting from Brisbane, said he saw ambulances passing his tour group earlier on Saturday.
Noosaville tourists Bill Forbes and Mike Davenport said they were shocked and devastated by the news.
"We had no idea, there are some questions to answer as the lake is clearly shallow and there's nothing bad in it," Mr Forbes said.
"It's unfathomable to me to have this happen in such a pristine environment."
Mt Gambier tourist Jill Jones was informed by her tour guide at 11am they might not be able to make it to the lake.
While rangers cleared the scene later that afternoon, she only learned of what happened from local media reports.
"It seems very bad for our area and the people coming here," she said.
"There was no reason why our guide said we may not be able to go to Lake McKenzie... but I hadn't found out about what happened until later."
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said water safety was a priority for tourism operators.
"The tourism industry takes water safety very seriously," he said.
"We have worked closely with Surf Life Saving Queensland to specifically develop methods that they can use to advise visitors about water safety."
According to reports from Japanese media, the principal of Kanagawa University High School Kikuchi Hisashi said the two students were bright and energetic.
He said they were well-liked by everyone.