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A brave rescue in extremely hazardous conditions that potentially saved the lives of five people during the floods in March has been awarded the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month.

Volunteer surf lifesavers Richard Nicholas and Courtney Date from Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club didn’t hesitate to answer the call to assist with flood relief efforts when the Colo, Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers exceeded the major flood class levels with an intensity that had not been seen in a generation.

Communities along the Colo River and along the Putty Road found themselves isolated in the rapidly rising waters, with the potential for the inundation of properties causing a significant risk to life. The State Emergency Service began to evacuate around 200 people from 120 properties in the impacted area.

Richard Nicolas in white hat, Courtney Date in blue and white.

On 23 March 2021, in response to the evacuation orders, a fleet of rescue boats were dispatched, including a Marine Rescue NSW vessel, and numerous NSW SES and Surf Life Saving inflatable rescue boats (IRB).

The weather was poor with heavy rain and deteriorating visibility. The rivers were in full flood with the swift water running dangerously fast. Hazardous debris including trees downed power poles and other large items such as cars added to the degree of difficulty for rescue crews.

At around 1pm, a Marine Rescue NSW vessel and its crew of three were evacuating two adults and two small children when it became caught on a cable that pulled the vessel onto its side in the swift water, quickly filling it with water and capsizing the boat. Two crew members were thrown into the water and managed to hold onto the hull. The other crew member and the four evacuees remained trapped inside the upturned boat.

Hearing the distress call “rescue, rescue, rescue” over the radio, SES volunteers and the Bondi SBLSC IRB crewed by Richard Nicholas and Courtney Date raced to the location on the river to assist. For Courtney, his first time responding to a real-life emergency would catch him off guard.

“We saw the upturned boat with the two guys just sitting on top of it. They looked fine, it wasn’t until we got to them that it became a bit more serious pretty quickly,” said Courtney Date. “To tell the truth, my initial thought was, I really don’t want to find five people dead today.”

The SES crew used their craft to try and prevent the Marine Rescue Vessel being washed away with the five persons inside while Courtney jumped from the IRB into the water to attempt to rescue the trapped victims.

“I said to Courtney, mate, you’re gonna have to try and get underneath the boat,” said Richard Nicholas. “While it’s not something you train for, we kind of both know what we had to do.”

The water was cold and moving quickly, visibility was low and there was debris all around. Despite this, Courtney and the SES volunteer entered the water. “We dived under the boat a couple of times, it was pitch black, you couldn’t see anything. After the second time, I definitely thought, I can’t do that again,” said Courtney.

The pair made numerous attempts to enter the upturned hull by diving under the black water, while the boat continued to be washed downstream. The two adult evacuees removed their lifejackets and managed to get out from under the submerged boat.

“The father of the children was screaming, ‘save my kids’ as I pulled him in to the boat,” said Richard. “Once I had them both in the boat, it was difficult keeping the IRB under control, with both parents panicking.”

The rescuers eventually managed to reach inside the hull and pulled one of the trapped children out by the legs. “It was an incredible feat by Courtney and Max to pull someone down under the water, and then be able to pull them free of the boat,” said Richard.

The second child was then pushed down into the water by the remaining Marine Rescue crew member trapped inside as Courtney pulled the child out from underneath the submerged hull. He managed to swim out from under the hull while the two children were hauled into rescue boats.

The success of the rescue in the extremely hazardous and difficult conditions came down to the swift, decisive and courageous actions of Courtney Date and Richard Nicholas’ ability to safely control the IRB in the fast-moving flood waters.

“Working with the SES guys was great, they are very organised, very strategic in the way they work. We tend to be more reactive, if something happens in the water we are used to running out and fixing it,” said Courtney.

Without Courtney and Richard’s skills and bravery and their ability to work together with their emergency services counterparts, this incident may well have resulted in multiple fatalities.

The SLSNSW Rescue of the Month aims to recognise excellence in lifesaving. Each month a ‘Rescue of the Month’ is awarded at state-level for the most outstanding rescue performance for that period. Monthly winners have the chance to win the National Rescue of the Month and become finalists for the SLSNSW Rescue of the Year which is presented at the annual Awards of Excellence. Laerdal are proud supporters of Surf Life Saving NSW. Rescue of the Month winners receive Laerdel gift vouchers as recognition of their achievements.


Thursday 17 June 2021