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Jason Armbruster thanked his training when he reflected on the events of a beautiful Ballina morning in April, events that would sequentially add up and lay the platform for him to be awarded the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month.

However, he conceded that, while training gives you the tools to know what is required in difficult situations, in the heat of the moment, you need your instincts to guide you as well.

It started as a day like any other in his tenure as a volunteer at Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club.

“I was enjoying my iced coffee as I usually do,” Jason chuckled.

“Everything was pretty normal, even the yacht coming in on the horizon. As it got a bit closer though and made its final approach, I noticed it was heading for a solid 1.5-2 metre swell that breaks on a sand bank.

“I just thought straight up ‘Well, this is going to be interesting’.”

It was around 9am, and Jason jumped in his car and drove down to the Ballina Marine Rescue tower at the Richmond River northern breakwall to watch it unfold.

“I was barely there two or three minutes and he had already gotten into a bit of strife,” Jason said.

“He made it over the first couple of waves but lost a lot of momentum, then the third wave got the boat pretty much side on and a man was thrown over the side by the impact.

“It was very strong – the mast of the yacht hit the water.”

While the initial impact was fierce, Jason was relieved to see the man had his life jacket on and had begun swimming towards the shore.

It was then that a second man appeared from the cabin and began making attempts to steer the yacht towards the man who had been thrown overboard.

Another set of waves came through, knocking the yacht around, and the second man was forced to jump overboard and swim towards shore.

“By this stage, though, I’d lost site of the first fella, and as I made my way back down along the wall I noticed his life jacket just floating in the water,” Jason said.

“It was then I realised we had an even bigger problem.”

Jason called Triple Zero and requested emergency assistance, but quickly advised he was ending the call as he needed to enter the water.

He picked a spot he considered safe for him to enter, and he begun swimming out towards the second man.

Reaching him, the second man – a 15 year-old – had caught up to the first, an older gentleman who by this stage was struggling and looked gravely ill.

Jason assessed the patient on the spot, before proceeding with the assistance of the teen to swim the elderly gentleman into shore.

“A couple of members of the public helped me drag him up,” Jason recalled.

“By this stage I was puffing pretty hard, so I asked if any of them knew CPR. Three did, so they got a start on the older man before the emergency services arrived, which was pretty quick mind you.

“We spent around 35 minutes working to resuscitate him, which was a fantastic effort.”

While the outcome wasn’t ideal and the older man sadly could not be revived, , Jason’s quick thinking, calm demeanour and decade of experience ensured there were not multiple lives lost.

“The training just dropped in – I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t think twice,” he said.

“It was probably in the hour after that I realised it was the real deal. It wasn’t my first outing, probably won’t be my last, but you’ve got to make sure you’re calm in these situations.

“I guess I’ve had experience across a number of fields with allied health and juvenile justice and mental health so when you’re in a sticky situation there and you have to think on your feet and react accordingly, I have that background to call on.

“I also think it’s important to give credit to the young fella for doing everything he could and keeping his cool.”

Jason Armbruster, and by extension the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore SLSC, has been awarded the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month for April 2021 for the outstanding rescue of two people at Lighthouse Beach. Congratulations, Jason.


Thursday 29 July 2021