Luck Of The Irish As Lifesavers Honoured For Daring Kayak Rescue

Surf lifesavers from Macksville-Scotts Head SLSC who braved the East Coast Low in June to rescue a stranded kayaker have been awarded the prestigious National and State Rescue of the Month for their efforts.

Club President, Jason O’Donnell and fellow member, Scott Balfour took out the award for the June/July period after they launched an IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) risking their own lives in the process to rescue the Irish national who had been knocked off his kayak by the dangerous surf conditions.

The operation was a team effort and the on-water duo were ably supported by fellow Macksville-Scotts Head members, Cathryn O’Donnell, Barry Clow and Peter Dyba and Mid North Coast Branch Duty Officer, David Brunsdon.

“The rescue scenario optimises what Surf Life Saving is about and we all came together and worked as one to rescue this man’s life,” a modest Jason O’Donnell said.

At around 11am on Sunday 5 June, despite the dangerous surf warnings and strong coastal winds in the area two male Irish backpackers entered the water at Scotts Head Beach for a kayaking session.

Fortuitously the pair opted to wear life jackets in the 5 metre swells, a decision that was to prove critical in the events that were to follow.

A large set coming through caused the two craft to capsize with one of the men being able to get safely to shore but the other was separated from his craft and was drifting further out to sea while being battered by the powerful waves.

Luck was on his side though - the Macksville-Scotts Head SLSC President Jason O’Donnell was at the clubhouse to drop off a new defibrillator that the club had received at the Mid North Coast Branch presentation the previous evening. It was even more fortunate that Jason’s wife had witnessed the incident.

Fellow club members Scott Balfour and Peter Dyba were also on-scene as were Police, Duty Officer, and Paramedics. The lifesavers were in contact with the State Operations Centre to update them on conditions.

Peter prepared the club’s IRB but it was clear there were real safety concerns, and it looked like a launch might not be possible.

All Lifesavers present realised that the Irishman was in extreme danger of drowning. Jason, Scott and David Brunsdon were assessing the conditions while Cathryn O’Donnell and Barry Clow were on the headland monitoring the swimmer. They were in constant radio contact with the trio who were waiting for a lull in the conditions in order to carry out a rescue attempt.

Eventually the moment came with Jason and Scott courageously launching the IRB in the challenging conditions. It was a herculean effort from all the involved but especially the actions of the IRB crew which was later described by witnesses as heroic.

“It shows the dedication and team work of a small club in country NSW and it's lucky that we were available. It also shows how lifesavers through the State Operations Centre can work with other emergency services can work to pull off a good result,” Jason O’Donnell said.

“It was the worst rescue I’ve been involved in and also it’s the first time ever that I’ve had to say no I don’t think I’ll be able to go out to try and rescue someone. I spent about 40 minutes just watching and evaluating the situation trying to get every rescue device I could to give us the best possible chance of being able to get out there. Eventually that opportunity came and we had to go out and take that chance.

“If we didn’t rescue the male in that five minute window he probably would’ve drowned simply because of a loss of consciousness and the effects of hypothermia. Luckily he had a lifejacket which ultimately saved his life and gave us more time to perform the rescue,” Mr O’Donnell concluded.

It’s a rescue to be proud of and the actions of these Lifesavers undoubtedly saved the kayaker’s life.

It’s the second time in two seasons that Macksville-Scotts Head SLSC have been awarded the National and State Rescue of the Month award. In October 2014 Jason O’Donnell and fellow club members, Peter McNally and Paul Young saved the life of a female swimmer who was caught in a rip 150 metres offshore earning recognition for the Mid North Coast club.

NSW Lifesavers have now won seven out of the 10 National Rescue of the Month Awards for the 2015-16 season, an outstanding achievement for our clubs.

The Mid North Coast Club is now in contention to win the National and NSW Rescue of the Year awards which will announced later this year.

Photo: Jason O'Donnell and Scott Balfour after they successfully returned the Irishman to shore. Credit - Anne-Marie Ladegaard.

Thu 28 Jul 2016