It’s an increasingly familiar sight at Leighton Beach.
The Police chopper slowly crabbing its way up and down the coast, 100m offshore, side door open, officers’ eyed peeled.
On the ocean, Water Police vessels in tell-tale grid formation, making their sad procession at glacial pace.
Onshore, the awful realisation that someone is missing.
Police later said a young man was last seen late Saturday night at Cottesloe railway station, the search starting on Anzac Day after the alarm had been raised.
No suspicion of a shark attack this time. Dutifully, emergency services do their level best.
Leighton regular Peter chanced upon the clothes bundle early in the day, further north, eyed off the pile and moved on.
Walking his dogs hours later, the clothes are still there, untouched. As he sweeps them up, a mobile phone and a wallet tumble out. The phone battery is empty but the wallet tells the story. A St John’s Ambulance card, a Beyond Blue contact card and a lonely $10 note.
Not long after Peter had contacted Police, a makeshift control centre had assembled in his apartment, six officers sheltering from the rain and coordinating a search and rescue operation around the dining table that they knew, in their hearts, was optimistic.
It was Peter’s mate Brett who was first to find a relative, his Grandmother, to deliver the unspeakable news.
He was a young man with severe mental health challenges and, yes, his family couldn’t find him. The sense was this wasn’t the first time.
Police searched through the night and, at first light, resumed their grim task in grey, blustery conditions. SES personnel unloaded their buggy at Port Beach and headed north.
The Water Police lapped the ocean, applying their rich blend of tidal modelling and plain intuition of where to look, honed through years of experience.
By nightfall, no good news. Nor the next day.
Redemption only, perhaps, in the presence and commitment of emergency services, ever keen to somehow find a decent outcome, however the odds are stacked.
* By John McGlue
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