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Three surf lifesavers have emerged as heroes after they rescued seven members of a family caught in a rip at Woonona Beach near Wollongong.

At 5.40pm on Saturday 21 November, Dean Anese from North Wollongong SLSC and Gino Posciliero from Sandon Point SLSC were swimming at the Woonona Beach sea pool when they heard screams for help from a group of people on the adjacent rock platform. Three children had fallen off the rock platform into the water and five adults had dived in after them. They were all stuck in a rip and struggling to stay afloat.

Thinking quickly, Dean Anese grabbed an esky lid as a floatation device and dived into the water. Gino Posciliero quickly followed. Dean swam out to two of the children and their mother and gave them the esky lid to hold on to. It was then that he noticed an unconscious man who was being kept afloat by a male member of the family group. He swam over to the man and, finding him unresponsive and not breathing, attempted CPR rescue breaths while in the water.

Meanwhile, Nathan McEwan from Woonona SLSC and Woonona Boardriders had been alerted to the incident by a friend.

“They said get a board and get out there - there’s people drowning. So, I ran up the side and grabbed my daughter’s paddle board and took off,” Nathan McEwan said.

Nathan dived into the rip and paddled out to assist the unconscious man. After getting him on his board, he helped the unconscious man’s partner and another family member who were struggling to stay above the water.

“I had one of them on each end of my board and the other guy in my arms. It was hard because they destabilised the board but I kept them up,” Nathan McEwan said.

Because it was outside normal patrol hours on Woonona Beach, the SLSNSW State Operations Centre tasked Wollongong City Council Lifeguards from nearby Bulli and Thirroul beaches to the incident. They raced to the scene on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and a Jetski (RWC). The Bulli Surf Life Saving Club’s volunteer emergency callout team was also tasked to the incident as were two Ambulance rescue helicopters.

Council lifeguards arrived on scene and used two rescue boards and the RWC to bring the eight people caught in the rip to shore. Ambulance officers, who were waiting on the beach, commenced CPR on the unconscious man but unfortunately he could not be revived.

Ambulance officers treated six people at the scene, three of whom were transported to hospital by ambulance for further treatment.

Peter Evert, Surf Life Saving Illawarra Branch President attended the incident as a Duty Officer and said it was a tragic end to what had been a near perfect day on Illawarra beaches.

“This is a very sad accident. This family lost a father in the most tragic of circumstances.

“The conditions were calm on the beach but unfortunately three children from the man’s family fell off the rocks and got caught in a rip after patrol hours had finished.

“He went into the water to rescue his kids but quickly got into trouble. And despite a fast response from off duty surf lifesavers and Council lifeguards, who saved seven people, the day ended in tragedy.

“It goes to show how quickly an emergency situation can develop and the importance of closely supervising children around water. In this case the adults were able to immediately attempt to rescue the children, however this is especially dangerous without any sort of floatation or rescue device. We’ve seen many tragedies like this where someone drowns trying to rescue another person. ,” Peter Evert said.

Steven Pearce, CEO of Surf Life Saving NSW, said that it was a tragic incident but praised the fast response of off duty surf lifesavers and the Wollongong City Council Lifeguards who managed to save the lives of seven people.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of the man who drowned at Woonona Beach," Steven Pearce said.

"Despite the best efforts of surf lifesavers, Wollongong City Council lifeguards and Woonona Boardriders members, what began as a beautiful day on the beach has ended in tragedy.

“I commend the lifesavers, lifeguards and paramedics who responded to the incident and saved the lives of seven people. Without their fast response, more lives may have been lost.

“We urge beachgoers to check the Beachsafe website and app before heading to the beach to ensure the beach you’re swimming at is patrolled by surf lifesavers or lifeguards,” he said.

Since 1 July 2020 there have been 15 coastal drowning deaths on the NSW coastline.

Monday 23 November 2020