DANGER SIGN: A damaged flood sign at Martin Bridge .
DANGER SIGN: A damaged flood sign at Martin Bridge . Mia Armitage

Death of man, 72, tragic reminder of flood danger

BILLEN Cliffs residents say the death of a neighbour who drowned after his car was washed into a flooded creek is a tragic wake-up call about the dangers of flood waters in the region.

Police divers recovered the body of Derrick Matthews, 72, on Saturday four days after he disappeared in a flooded Leycester Creek at Larnook, northwest of Lismore.

Mr Matthews disappeared on Wednesday afternoon after his Range Rover was washed off the side of Martin Bridge.

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Mr Matthews' neighbour Cattalia Lee said the crossing was prone to flooding but it was the only way for residents of Billen Cliffs to access their community.

Ms Lee said a lack of markers on Martin Bridge added to the danger.

"(He) had nothing to guide him," she said.

"He hit the side and it just pushed him over. You can't see the bridge when it's dark."

Fellow Billen Cliffs resident David Sykes said Mr Matthews "didn't allow for the current".

"He hit the concrete and then the current got under the back of the car and just lifted it up and flipped it over," Mr Sykes said.

"It wasn't just the depth of the water, it was the speed," he said.

Mr Sykes said flood waters often rose quickly in the area and residents were accustomed to having travel plans hampered by road closures.

He said Martin Bridge had flooded at least six times this year but there was "never enough money" from Lismore City Council to improve safety there.

"I guess this will be the wake-up call", he said.

Ms Lee said she was concerned that if the bridge was not upgraded emergency services might not be able to reach the community during a crisis.

She said residents would lobby the council to have the bridge upgraded but if unsuccessful the community would look to fund improvements.

School teacher Toni Branson, who saw Mr Matthews' car plunge into the floodwaters, said the community had already discussed plans to install safety equipment at the site.

Ms Branson said there had been talk about installing rescue boxes on each side of the bridge but the usual practice was for drivers to wait for the flood waters to recede before crossing.

Ms Branson, who was tending to her horses near Martin Bridge when Mr Matthews entered the flood waters, said she and her friends "Bo and Alex" had been unable to save him.

"I was standing on the end of the bridge when he drove past us and he drove off the bridge," she said.

Ms Branson said her friends had grabbed the rope she used to tether her horses in an attempt to rescue Mr Matthews as he was "washed downstream".

"(Bo and Alex) took off with the rope across the paddock hoping to find him," she said.

"If they'd had a rope on that side he might have been okay, they could have tied it to a tree and he could have climbed across.

"We all felt tremendously helpless.

"It was a raging river but now it's just a peaceful little creek again."

Volunteers from emergency services across northern NSW joined in the search.

SES team leader Neil Coulter said visibility in Leycester Creek had been low and currents had made the search difficult.