CAUTION: Eyewitness and expert testimony to the events that took the life of John Smith in December, 2019, are unsettling. Australian Community Media urges caution for readers as this could be deeply upsetting.
The Coronial Inquiry to the NSW Bushfires has heard a Catalina man was likely "totally disillusioned" by smoke when he perished on a property in Nerrigundah during the Badja Forest Fire.
John Smith, 71, tragically died during the Black Summer fires that destroyed 1000s of hectares of property and bushland throughout the Eurobodalla Shire in December 2019 and January 2020.
Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan heard Mr Smith was living in Catalina with his wife and young daughter when he decided to drive to his bush property in Nerrigundah on December 30, 2019, to prepare it for a potential bushfire.
She heard Mr Smith called his wife at about 9pm and asked her to check Fires Near Me, which was showing fire as at a "watch and act" level.
Mr Smith's wife then begged him to come back to Catalina, and Mr Smith promised he would be back as soon as he could.
In a statement read to the court, Mr Smith's wife said he'd told her he could see red smoke from his roof.
"I had a very short conversation with him as his phone was getting low on battery and he was going to have dinner," she said.
"He told me he'd call me in the morning - that was the last contact I had with John.
"At about 5.45am, I checked the Fires Near Me application for an update, and saw the fire went up towards Wandella, parallel to the property.
"I called him at 5.50am, but the call was straight to his message bank."
Coroner O'Sullivan heard Mrs Smith then spent the next few days asking friends of John's to drive up to the property after she still hadn't heard from him on January 1.
On January 3, two of John's friends drove to the property to look for him, and found his burnt-out car on the side of Murphys Ridge Road..
Two days later, members of the RFS and NSW Police joined the search for John, but it wasn't until 7am on January 6 that another friend of John's found his remains in a gully about 50 metres from his car.
The court heard Mr Smith's car appeared to have left the road and crashed into a tree, and that Mr Smith had attempted to escape on foot but couldn't outrun the fire.
The man who found Mr Smith's body told the court the car was found pointed back towards the property, and Mr Smith was found in a gully on the opposite side of the road to the Tuross River.
"I would think he was totally disillusioned from the smoke and fire and thought that was the quickest way to get to cover," the man said.
"I think he tried to make a run for it in his car, realised he couldn't get out, tried to get back to his house and then ran off the road because he couldn't see."
While no finding is yet to be made, a lawyer told Coroner O'Sullivan he foreshadowed a submission that Mr Smith died of thermal injuries sometime on December 31, 2019, during the Badja Forest Fire.
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