The drama began on Easter Saturday at South Beach, Dunbogan when a holidaying family from Sydney got into difficulty after patrol hours.
Samantha Morley and her husband Dominic Johnson were sitting on the beach watching their two daughters enjoy some time in the surf when a large set of waves crashed through and the two girls lost their footing.
As she later recounted to local media outlets, it was pure instinct that made both adults enter the water and attempt to save the two children.
Unfortunately Samantha became caught in a rip current and was dragged out to sea while the others eventually managed to scramble to shore.
It was just the start of what would prove to be an hour and a half-long ordeal which quickly became a battle for survival.
Shortly before 4pm, NSW Police requested assistance from the Surf Life Saving NSW Operations Centre who contacted the emergency callout team from Camden Haven SLSC to respond.
Two of those who answered the urgent message were local club members Phil Traves and Tony Worton. Both men raced down to the beach to prepare the Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) for launch.
In the spirit of Surf Life Saving and this small Mid North Coast club, they were joined by teenage members Jacob Worton (Tony’s son) and Jay Toogood with Adam Toogood and club president Michelle Garvan also coming to the rescue.
Phil and Tony launched the IRB while the others grabbed rescue gear and medical supplies and raced to the other end of the beach by car.
“Phil kept us heading south and we made the decision to do an inshore run and this time I could see a group of people all pointing and waving at the ocean behind us.
“We turned the duck around and found Samantha really struggling in the conditions. She had absolutely no energy left so we pulled her into the boat as quickly as possible but still had to ride over the top of some big sets to get her to shore where we handed her over to the paramedics.”
After being assessed, Samantha was rushed to hospital having ingested sea water.
Thankfully she made a full recovery and this story has a happy ending.
Surf Life Saving NSW Operations Manager Andy Kent said it was clear-thinking and an incredible feat of endurance by Samantha that helped her survive her ordeal.
“She did everything right and managed to stay afloat and most importantly, she didn’t panic. Rip currents don’t kill people, but panic does,” said Andy Kent.
“It also highlights just how quickly an emergency situation can develop at an unpatrolled beach and even a safe-looking environment can become dangerous in no time,” he said.
When told about the state-wide recognition for their rescue efforts, a modest Tony Worton played down his own role but took pride in what it meant for his club.
“I am just so thrilled for the club - it’s a very, very proud moment. It shows that even though Camden Haven is a small club, when it counts we can step up and save a life by responding quickly and professionally.
“It makes me proud to be a lifesaver and to belong to such a strong community group,” he said.