The beautiful beaches of the Illawarra, easily accessible to people from south-western Sydney, were slammed over summer, with lots of rescues performed by lifesavers, both on patrol and in after-hours emergencies.
Austinmer beach is a small, popular location in Illawarra’s northern suburbs and was the club of choice to join when Adam Turner returned to the area after more than 20 years in the Defence Forces and working as an airline pilot.
Adam was keen to get involved in Surf Life Saving and joined Austinmer to complete his Bronze Medallion and became a patrolling member in 2017.
Over the course of just one week in mid-January, Adam Turner assisted in the rescue of 18 people, all of them getting into trouble outside of patrol hours, unaware of the dangerous rip currents that are often a feature at low-tide or near the rocks at Austinmer and nearby Sharkey’s Beach.
“Tourists couldn’t go anywhere else. It was the worst after hours season we’ve ever seen,” said Adam.
A mass rescue at dusk on 18 January where the lives of seven young people were saved, has earned Adam Turner the NSW Rescue of the Month award.
Adam was at the beach that evening enjoying an early evening body surf. He had just exited the water at about 7pm when he saw seven young adults who were from south-western Sydney, out in the surf.
He watched as a large set of waves came through and washed them all off the sandbank they were standing on and out into a fast-moving rip at the north end of the beach which was dragging them further out to sea and north along the rock shelf.
“It was a low, low tide and a set of three bigger waves came through. There was lots of foam. I didn’t see any heads pop up then all seven appeared but were separated and in distress,” recalled Adam.
Adam sprang into action, grabbing his swim fins, the only rescue gear he had, and dived into the surf.
Adrian Kors a local was on his way onto the beach when he saw Adam running into the water. Adam knew he couldn’t assist the group alone and knowing Adrian was a strong swimmer, signalled to him to help.
Adrian got to the closest two swimmers first, there were also two close to the rocks, a male on his own near the rocks and two girls getting further offshore.
Adam used all his might to push the male towards the rock platform before re-grouping and heading out further to the two girls. They had a bodyboard with them but they were frantic trying to get to him and pull him under the water in classic drowning victim behaviour. He said he was beginning to fear for his own safety.
“They were in real danger of being smashed against the rocks. I got to them and tried to pull them away from the rock face that was just a couple of metres away,” said Adam.
At the most difficult point Adam saw a wave approaching and tried to push the two under it while still holding onto the board. He recalls trying so hard to hold onto them. “I couldn’t hold it. There were about 15 seconds when I thought I’d lost them,” he said. “It was a horrible feeling losing grip of them.”
Adam made his way to the surface and through the chop and turbulence of the ocean he saw the pair, “Somehow they’d punched through the wave and there they were.”
Meanwhile, Adrian had made his way to the rocks where others from the group were already on the beach and others were trying to jump in to help.
Adrian’s 16-year old son Will had arrived after calling Triple Zero on the beach and alerting emergency services of the mass rescue.
Adam says out of nowhere, right when he needed it Will dived off the rocks to assist.
“I was trying to keep the girls afloat and wait for assistance when Will came flying off the rocks with another board,” he said. With a board for each of the girls, Will and Adam kicked as hard as they could to get away from the rocks.
“The two of us managed to roll one girl onto that board. We then pushed as hard as we could to get around the rip and further south paralleling the beach.”
As they approached the beach the Austinmer club callout team had arrived and along with ambulance crews and police, were able to assist the seven rescue victims. One of the patients had taken on water and was treated on the beach by ambulance personnel.
“Austi is a classic like this - people don’t realise but it is a very busy beach. Even though the beach is only 250 metres we have a handful of pumping rips,” he said. “The majority of people we get here are from nowhere near the ocean, many aren’t surf aware and don’t know what the flags mean. It’s not unusual and when the flags go down, it turns to hell.”
The large group watching from the beach clearly didn’t understand the danger their friends were in, or how close they had come to drowning if it weren’t for the fast response and skills of Adam and the others who assisted.
“I was quite disappointed with the group when we finally got back to the beach. Everyone was laughing and clapping. I said to them, ‘you’ve got no idea. People have just risked their lives to save your friends.’,” Adam told them.
“We had a chat to them to tell them about what happened. None of them could swim. It still shocks me how quickly a big group could be taken, three waves and they were gone.”
For his efforts in saving the lives of seven people, Adam has received the Rescue of the Month award.
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 29 April 2021