Demet Latifoglu's colleagues at Isik College, in Melbourne's northern suburbs, were looking forward to welcoming her back yesterday from long-service leave. Instead they were mourning the sudden death of the young teacher, who drowned in a notorious rip off the Great Ocean Road.
Latifoglu, 36, entered the water at Urquhart Bluff, near Anglesea, on Sunday to rescue her 9-year-old son, who was caught in the rip with four other boys, according to family friends.
The boys and two other women were rescued by surf lifesavers, but Latifoglu had gone into cardiac arrest by the time a helicopter plucked her from the ocean, and she died later in Geelong Hospital.
Fellow teachers at Isik College, which caters mainly for Turkish-Australian students, were distraught.
Latifoglu, a primary teacher at the college for more than 10 years, was supposed to run an induction course for new staff yesterday.
"She touched the hearts and minds of many," the school principal, Tuncay Terzi, told the Age. "[She was] a passionate teacher who loved children."
Latifoglu and her son, Ekrem, who is autistic, had gone to the unpatrolled beach with another family. The tragedy unfolded soon after midday.
"The kids were playing in the water and the mothers thought they had gone in too far, so they went in to call them back," family friend Ersin Konukaldi told the Herald Sun.
"The further the mothers went in, the further the children drifted out. The rip got hold of the two mothers and dragged them out."
Latifoglu had been in the water for 15 minutes by the time the rescue helicopter found her. An off-duty nurse and doctor tried to revive her on the beach. Her son, two women aged 18 and 36, and three other boys, aged 8, 13 and 14, all suffered minor injuries and shock. Latifoglu was a single mother, and Ekrem will reportedly be looked after by her parents.
Latifoglu's brother, Mehet, said she loved skydiving and bungy jumping, and had been a keen traveller who spent part of her long-service leave in Fiji and Europe.
Police praised the actions of onlookers, who grabbed surfboards and entered the rough seas before lifesavers arrived from nearby beaches.
Latifoglu's students posted tributes to her on a Facebook page. "You were the funniest and best teacher I ever had," one wrote.