By Jon Lees
Australia: Queensland jockey Chris Caserta has been presumed dead after disappearing during a late- night swim off Australia’s Gold Coast.
The 26-year-old rider had gone into the water with apprentice Amy Graham when they got into difficulties after being caught in a rip tide at the Surfers Paradise beach. Bystanders rushed to their aid but only Graham managed to scramble back to the shore.
Graham, 25, told her boss, trainer John Zielke, in a text message reported by Racenet: “I thought I was going to die, I tried my best to save him, keep him calm and breathe without struggling myself. But we just kept getting dunked over and over and over again. It happened so fast, we just got dragged out.
“We didn’t even go that far but the ocean took us out … I didn’t even want to go in but I couldn’t let him go in alone.”
Caserta could not be found after police launched a search and rescue mission by air, sea and land lasting several hours.
“Unfortunately I had the heartbreaking job of telling Chris’s parents that this is not a search-and-rescue mission for Chris, we’re searching for Chris’s body as the timeframe for survival has passed,” said senior sergeant Jay Notaro of Queensland Water Police at a media conference posted by 7News.
“It is an absolute tragedy at any time but particularly just before Christmas. On behalf of the Queensland Police Service would like to pass on our sincere condolences for his family, friends and colleagues in the racing industry.
“We’ll continue to search and our goal is to return Chris to his family. It is a timely reminder to swim on patrolled beaches during patrolled times which are currently 8am to 5pm. By not doing so you are putting your own life at risk and also putting the lives at risk of those people who try and rescue you.”
Caserta moved to Queensland from Victoria in December last year. He had ridden five winners this season out of a career total of 154 victories from 2,181 rides since his first ride in 2013.
Gold Coast Turf Club CEO Steve Lines said the news of the jockey’s disappearance had deeply affected the racing community. “First and foremost, our heart goes out to Chris’ family and the entire racing community as the search continues,” said Lines.
“The Gold Coast Turf Club is working with Racing Queensland to implement welfare support mechanisms for Chris’ family, friends and industry participants during this tough time.”
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