A group of off-duty surf lifesavers, who emerged as unsung heroes after performing back-to-back rescues at the remote Seven Mile Beach on the NSW Lower North Coast, have won the Rescue of the Month Award from Surf Life Saving NSW.
Alex Taylor from Mona Vale SLSC, Jemima McGahey from Palm Beach SLSC and a group of their friends were on a camping holiday at the Booti Booti National Park south of Forster over the October 2019 long weekend.
The group was relaxing at the beachside Ruins Campground when a member of the public ran into their campsite yelling and asking for help to rescue some children struggling to stay afloat in the surf.
“When I heard there were kids in trouble, I immediately kicked off my thongs, cleared my pockets and went straight out,” said Alex Taylor.
“I saw two kids in a rip with bodyboards close to shore. My assessment was that they were okay, but I could see an older guy out the back in trouble and going under.
“I swam out to him and put him on his back and swam him out of the rip,” said Alex.
Being keen surfers, Alex’s friends had longboards with them. Thinking quickly, Holly McGahey grabbed her board and paddled out to Alex and the man and assisted him back to shore on the board.
"It's lucky that we took our longboards with us," Jemima McGahey said.
"Alex was the real hero though. He is a strong swimmer and went out to get the man without hesitation," she said.
The rescued man, aged in his 30s, was with a large group of people.
“He was not in a good way. He was out of breath, off colour and he’d taken on water,” said Alex.
Gemma Keers, who is a registered nurse, called Triple Zero and waited with the patient until paramedics arrived.
The man was on a father-son camping holiday with a group of over 40 men who attend the Greenacre Mosque in Western Sydney.
To say thank-you for rescuing their friend, the men invited Alex, Jemima and their group to join them for lunch the next day at their campsite. The lifesavers seized the opportunity to give the group some tips on beach safety.
“They were such a lovely group of men. They took all our advice onboard, like how to signal for help and float until they were rescued,” said Jemima.
“Lunch was great,” said Alex enthusiastically. “We got the chance to talk to them about beach safety, the dangers of rips and advised them not to swim where they were swimming the previous day.
“They were too shaken up immediately after the incident to talk about it and so was I to be honest,” Alex admitted. “But at lunch the next day we all had a good chat about it.”
Despite the successful lesson on beach safety, Alex, Jemima and their friends’ lifesaving duties were far from over for the weekend.
“We were sitting there having a great lunch when someone came running up and said, ‘we need you again’. I couldn’t believe it. We ran straight down to the beach,” said Alex.
Alex and Ryan Metelovski got down to the beach first and saw four people caught in the same rip. They dived straight into the water.
“Ryan pulled two guys out on body boards close to shore but there were two other people in the rip being swept out, so I swam out to them,” said Alex.
Two people were struggling to stay above the water. One was a man in his forties, the other a teenage boy. Alex reached the boy, reassured him and swam him out of the rip.
“We pulled the two guys out. They were in a bad way. They were both vomiting and had taken on water,” said Alex.
For the second time that weekend, Gemma Keers called Triple Zero and monitored the patients until help arrived.
“We were a well-oiled machine by then,” said Alex wryly.
“In fact, one of the paramedics, who had also attended the incident the day before said, ‘aren’t you guys supposed to be on holiday?’”.
Reflecting on the incident, Alex said that there were so many people in distress, he found the situation almost overwhelming.
“I thought we’d probably lose someone. It was the scariest rescue I’ve ever done,” said Alex.
“If we weren’t there, people would have drowned. I’m certain about that," Alex concluded.
Surf Life Saving NSW President George Shales congratulated Alex, Jemima and their friends on winning the Rescue of the Month Award.
“If Alex and Jemima hadn't been at the beach campground that weekend, there is no doubt that lives would have been lost," said Shales.
"I congratulate Alex and Jemima on their extraordinary, multiple rescues - both made in challenging circumstances. They are both exemplary surf lifesavers and deserving winners of the Rescue of the Month Award," Shales concluded.
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. Laerdel are proud supporters of Surf Life Saving NSW. Rescue of the Month winners receive Laerdel gift vouchers as recognition of their achievements. Ten prizes are awarded annually.
The volunteer lifesavers were awarded SLSNSW Rescue of the Month for October 2019.