AN IRANIAN asylum seeker who risked his life crossing the ocean in a people smuggling boat in search of a better life in Australia is missing and feared drowned in a Christmas Day tragedy in the Murrumbidgee River at Oura.
A fun day out at the Oura beach for a group of workers from the Teys Bomen abattoir turned tragic when the 25-year-old got into trouble on Thursday after entering the river and disappearing after crying out for help.
Another man in the water with him and aged in his 20s was also swept away by the fast current but managed to struggle to the river bank.
Two other men entered the water to try to save the missing man but were defeated by the dangerous conditions.
Two co-workers of the missing man told The Daily Advertiser his name was Ali, but they did not know his full name.
Closer friends of the man who were at the beach on Friday were too upset to speak to the media, but it is understood he was very popular and regarded as a kind and helpful person.
Police said it could be some days before they are able to officially release his name.
An extensive water, land and air search that began on Thursday afternoon continued all day Friday.
The Southcare helicopter scoured the river from above on Thursday, while members of the Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA) looked for the man in a boat and police officers walked along the river banks.
The first-day search was postponed when light started to fail about 8.30pm.
It resumed about 6.30am on Friday with another water and land search before four police divers from Sydney arrived about 11.30am.
Initially, they used sonar to try to locate a body.
The search extended more than three kilometres downstream from where the man was last seen.
Hanif Ansari was at Oura beach when the tragedy unfolded and returned on Friday with a slim hope Ali would be found alive.
He said he worked with Ali at Teys, but did not know him as well as other people.
Mr Ansari was with two other friends in another group when he saw Ali get into trouble.
"We came down to the river for Christmas Day, it was a very sad day," 29-year-old Mr Ansari said.
Wagga police duty officer, Inspector Peter Robertson, co-ordinated the rescue operation at Oura.
He said the alarm was raised at 4.55pm on Thursday, about five minutes after the missing man disappeared from the sight of his friends.
"We sent crews out immediately and organised an air, land and water search," Inspector Robertson said.
At the police station, detectives on Friday morning interviewed members of the group Ali was with before inspecting the scene themselves.
While one person at the beach on Thursday said he believed he saw some of the group drinking, police at this time do not believe alcohol played a role in Ali getting into trouble in the water.
"There is no suggestion of alcohol at all," Inspector Robertson said.
"We spoke with them last night (Thursday) and none appeared to be affected by alcohol."
Some people who saw Ali in trouble said he floated out to the middle of the river before getting into strife, but it is also possible he was swept out from near the bank by the strong current.
"We believe he was paddling in waist-deep water and just got swept away by the current," Inspector Robertson said.
As well as the police divers, about 18 State Emergency Service volunteers, seven other police, three VRA members, four paramedics and an ambulance chaplain were at Oura for the search on Friday.