Aida Hamed, who tragically drowned on the Mornington Peninsula on Wednesday, was “loved by everyone”, her daughter-in-law says.
But Alisar Najem and her partner, Aida’s son Daniel Hamed, feared they would be blocked from saying goodbye to Aida at her funeral because of border closures.
Ms Najem was told “we are going to terminate your call” and hung up on twice while pleading for an exemption with the Victorian health department’s COVID-19 hotline, she said.
She spoke to different hotline staff members on Thursday and Friday.
Both hung up on her when she wouldn’t take “we can’t help you” for an answer, she said.
Ms Najem and Mr Hamad, both 25, struggled for two days to get a definite answer on whether they could enter Victoria for the funeral.
She repeatedly contacted Service NSW, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the supplied email address for Victorian border exemption permits and the COVID hotline, but was consistently told “we don’t know”.
“We have tried every government department — I’m not joking,” she said.
“It’s really frustrating because, what do you mean, you don’t know? Who can help us?
“There’s no compassion. Why aren’t they being trained to have compassion?”
She said DHHS called her at 5.40pm on Friday before her planned 6pm flight to Melbourne confirming they would be able to enter Victoria for the funeral, after Ms Najem spoke to media.
Ms Najem first called at 7am on Thursday and kept trying until she received the answer, she said.
Aida Hamed died aged 45 when a wave swept her and three others into the ocean from rocks at Bushrangers Bay, about 100 km south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, about 3.30pm on Wednesday.
A woman aged 47 and her two daughters aged 13 and 19 — who called Aida “aunty” — survived when an off-duty lifeguard aged 24 and another man aged 48 leapt into the ocean to intervene.
The lifeguard used his surfboard as a flotation device which the family clung to until they could be reached by a winch and the marine rescue boat.
Police said the quick-thinking actions “without doubt” prevented more deaths during the terrifying incident.
But despite the two men’s heroic efforts and those of police and paramedics, Aida could not be saved.
She was a single mum of four children: three in Victoria and one, Daniel, in Sydney.
Before the DHHS confirmation, Ms Najem told NCA NewsWire: “Everyone is saying different things — we’re taking a chance and going to the airport”.
She said Daniel, her fiance, was “numb and sad” since the death and had not had time to mourn “because he’s just trying to get to Melbourne”.
“His siblings are all in Victoria. He’s distraught and needs the emotional support of his family,” she said.
“I’m trying to support him — it is draining, I’m just trying to get him to Melbourne. That’s my priority right now. He needs his siblings because they know what he’s going through.”
She said they each had a COVID test which was negative, and lived in the Sydney suburbs of Bass Hill and Macquarie Fields respectively.
She said Aida was Muslim and it was extremely important for her to be buried as soon as possible in keeping with her religious beliefs.
“But that’s something they obviously don’t care about,” she said.
“We all have the right to freedom of religion and the right to religious practices — that’s something else they should take into consideration.
“Telling us, ‘we’re going to terminate the call’ — it’s not right.”
The funeral was supposed to be held on Friday, but had already been pushed to Saturday so Mr Hamed would be able to go.
“If this is not urgent then I don’t know what urgent is,” she said.
After the tragic death, Ms Amed’s friend Leyla Shi said she was “the most beautiful person on earth”.
“She had a beautiful heart,” Ms Shi said.
“She was a single mother of four kids. She loved life and travelling – a beautiful soul.”
Victoria Police Inspector Janene Denton said Bushrangers Bay had unpredictable weather conditions and could turn from calm to rough in an instant.
Ms Hamed was visiting the spot on a day trip from where she lived in Epping in Melbourne’s north.
“The size of the wave has completely taken them by surprise,” Inspector Denton said.
“(It) is a reminder of the danger of those type of areas. It’s not a patrolled beach and the dangers are magnified by the remoteness of the location. It’s actually very difficult for emergency services to get in there.”
She praised the “really brave act” of the two men — who didn’t know each other — risking their own safety to save the family who survived.
“We have passed on our absolute gratitude,” she said.
A DHHS spokeswoman said that they could not comment on individual cases.
“We cannot comment on individual cases but exemptions requested on compassionate grounds are top priority and processed as quickly as possible – our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” she said.