Macksville Lifesavers Honoured For Dramatic Rescue

A group of lifesavers from Macksville – Scotts Head have taken out the 2016 NSW Surf Life Saving Award for Rescue of the Year at a gala ceremony in Sydney.

Club President, Jason O’Donnell and fellow member, Scott Balfour 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.

“It was a whole club effort and it comes down to SurfCom being available, I think that made a huge difference. I also believe if we can bring the IRB Crewman back into the Bronze Medallion as far as education awards that would help a lot of rescues,” Jason O’Donnell said.

“Our club is a really small club and we were extremely lucky that we were there and everyone did their best. This award shows that we’re capable just as any other small surf club in NSW. This rescue came down to everything that I’ve learnt throughout my time in Surf Life Saving.”

The lifesavers involved recently were awarded the Australian Rescue of the Month for the May/June period.

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.

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

The 2016 SLSNSW Awards of Excellence are proudly presented by Stramit Building Products. Over 350 of Surf Life Saving’s most outstanding lifesavers, athletes, educators, coaches, and administrators from around NSW gathered at Sydney’s iconic Four Seasons Hotel for a night of celebration.

For a full list of all the winners, and to see photographs from the night, please visit the SLSNSW Awards of Excellence Event Page or our social media channels.

Photo: Macksville-Scotts Head SLSC President, Jason O'Donnell and Scott Balfour at the 2016 SLSNSW Awards of Excellence.

Mon 15 Aug 2016