Police search for a missing man at Darling Harbour. Photo: Footage from Channel Nine
The girlfriend of an Irish tourist who drowned at Darling Harbour dove into the water to rescue him but his body had already sunk too far beneath the surface.
Police say the 34-year-old man fell into the water as he and friends were attending the Vivid Sydney light show on Friday night.
His distraught partner and friends jumped into the water fully clothed and frantically splashed about trying to find him.
Police during the search for the drowned man. Photo: From Channel Nine footage
Water police Acting Superintendent Joe McNulty said he did not believe the man’s death was the result of any malice. He also described how his friends had frantically searched in the water.
‘‘It was a tragic and extremely rare incident,’’ he said.
The man's body was found on the ocean floor about three metres out from the unfenced boardwalk at Cockle Bay Wharf at 1.30am on Saturday.
The aftermath of the tragedy - police talk to potential witnesses. Photo: From Channel Nine footage
The stepfather of a teenager who drowned at Cockle Bay two years ago has called for fencing around the water's edge to prevent more tragedies from occurring at the popular destination.
Gregory Magro's 19-year-old step-son, Jason Daep, drowned in Cockle Bay in the early hours of February 12, 2012, after a brawl broke out at the Pontoon nightclub and then continued on the esplanade outside. An off duty security guard was found not guilty of his manslaughter in February.
Mr Magro said he pleaded with the state government to improve safety in the area to prevent further tragedies.
''I was concerned as to how easily someone can fall into the water around Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour,'' he said.
''Some of the bars in the area are only 10 or 12 metres from the waters edge. I feel there should be a fence to keep adults and children from falling into the water or a net below the promenade to catch people before they enter the water.''
His concerns were expressed to then planning minister Brad Hazzard who responded by saying the risk of drowning was low.
''I received a letter from Mr Hazzard which basically said 25 million people visit the area per year and not many people fall in the water so they do not need to take action at this time,'' he said. ''I don't know what it will take to resolve this situation.''
On Saturday, Acting Superintendent McNulty said police were talking to witnesses to establish whether the Irishman was pushed into the water or fell in accidentally. They are also examining whether or not alcohol was a factor.
''We haven't been able to confirm (whether it was) a trip, a fall or a push,'' he said.
''All witnesses said they heard a splash and then they saw the 34 year old man in the water. We can't confirm or deny alcohol or any other substance abuse until toxicology reports are undertaken.''
Police will examine CCTV footage from the area where the tragedy occurred, just in front of the Home night club.
They will also investigate safety factors in the area but Acting Superintendent McNulty said it would be up to the coroner to determine whether temporary fencing should be mandatory during big public events at Darling Harbour.
The opening night of Vivid Sydney drew large crowds to Darling Harbour and Circular Quay and organisers of the festival have been liaising with police.
''Vivid Sydney organisers are shocked and saddened by this tragic incident and express our condolences to the family and friends of the deceased man,'' organisers said in a statement.
Acting Superintendent McNulty appealed to people attending the festival to be cautious.
''It is a tragic event,'' he said. ''We have to take care of each other, we have to take care of our community around us, our friends and family and especially the kids who'll be watching these events for the next three weeks.''
A spokeswoman from the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority said the organisation was assisting police with their enquiries.