Whirlpool hit us in seconds
Tue, Jan 25, 2005
Wodonga Border Mail MATTHEW Donovan, an experienced canyoner, had little or no warning of the wall of water that was to claim his life on Saturday afternoon. Mr Charles Leyland, an Albury High School friend and one of the party of seven in the Empress Falls gorge in the Blue Mountains, said yesterday the gentle waters gave little indication of the danger that was to come.
“When we started out on Saturday the weather was wet but the water in the gorge calm,” he said.
“Wed been canyoning for about 1 hours and nearing the end of the upper section of the walk when the water started to rise.
“We were caught on one side of the pool that sits above the Empress Falls and needed to cross to the other side.
“The waters in the canyon went from still and gentle to a whirlpool when the flood waters hit.
“Matthew made sure all of us were safely across the rising and turbulent water before trying to get across himself.
“Thats what he was like, he always put everyone else first.”
Mr Leyland said as Matthew went to cross, a massive amount of water hit the pool.
“It was a flash flood,” he said.
“The pool went from being quite peaceful to very turbulent in seconds.”
He said the Donovan brothers were experienced canyoners, an extreme sport that involves abseiling down canyons and waterfalls.
“I would say that they were very experienced,” he said.
“We were the novices.
“Only hours before the flash flood people had been abseiling down under the waterfall.
“There was a professional tour group about a half hour in front of us.
“There was just no sign of what was about to happen.”
The other members of the party including Mr Donovan and brothers James and Kelly, along with Mr Leyland and his brother Alex and the girlfriends of Matthew and James were left perched on a rock ledge at the top of the falls.
Matthews body was found by police divers about 10.45am yesterday in a rock pool at the top of Empress Falls, near Wentworth Falls, close to where he was last seen.
His body was winched out by helicopter about 1.40pm and taken to Westmead morgue where a post mortem examination will be carried out.
Yesterday friends and family gathered in the Blue Mountains to support the family.
“There are just so many people here, offering support,” Mr Leyland said.
“He was just a terrific guy and loved by everyone that knew him.”
” AS torrential rain and hail pounded down, defence force helicopter pilot Matthew Donovan was determined to ensure his girlfriend, two brothers and three friends got out of Empress Canyon before him.” 
“An experienced canyoner, Matthew usually preferred more challenging canyons, but that day he had chosen a beginner’s spot in the Blue Mountains. He did not want to put anyone’s safety at risk.” 
“Shower or two, chance of a storm. It was supposed to be an easy two-hour canyoning adventure in the Blue Mountains that experts say a novice could complete, under normal conditions.
But all that changed when heavy storms hit the area late on Saturday afternoon as heroic Melbourne policeman Constable James Donovan and his brother Matthew, who lived in Sydney, were in the Valley of the Waters canyon near Wentworth Falls.” 
The pool at the top of the falls (above Empress Falls proper) ‘the second last pool of Empress Falls Canyon’ on the approach to the main abseil.
“Three people have now drowned as a result of rising water in the Blue Mountains national park,” a parks spokesman said.
“Canyoning is a dangerous thing to do and that’s why we have signs on all our common canyons, including the one this man visited, warning of the dangers,” he said. 
Mr Leyland said as Matthew went to cross a massive amount of water hit the pool. “It was a flash flood,” he said.
“The pool went from being quite peaceful to very turbulent in seconds”. 
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 Whirlpool hit us in seconds