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An amazing story of survival and serendipity has won an isolated surf club team the Surf Life Saving Rescue of the Month.

In winter, the days are short, the water cold and the swell can be hazardous. There is no sign of the red and yellow flags on most beaches, however across NSW, volunteer surf lifesavers remain on-call. Throughout the year they continue to be first responders to critical incidents on our coastline, putting their lives on the line to save others.

On Saturday 22 June, lifesavers from Pacific Palms SLSC and the Lower North Coast Support Operations Team were going about their usual Saturday morning activities away from the beach.

A family group had made their way up to the isolated Pacific Palms area south of Forster, from Sydney for the weekend. They were keen rock fishers and had headed out on Saturday morning along the jagged rocks south of Elizabeth Beach in the Booti Booti National Park.

The surf was up and conditions were hazardous. It took one wave, slightly larger than the rest, to sweep a man and woman from the group and into the water where they were being washed up against the rocks. Fortuitously, both were wearing lifejackets, although it was only because of a nagging husband that this was the case.

It was 11.41am when Branch Duty Officer Richard Ellery received a call from the State Operations Centre advising of the incident on the point north of Boomerang Beach. Richard was advised there was a person in the water, 100 metres from the rocks, conscious and waving for assistance.

Richard was 20 minutes from the scene so he contacted the Pacific Palms SLSC call out team which included Director of Lifesaving Kel McCredie, Jerrad Allen, Jeanette Allen and club president Dan Morgan who immediately raced to the club to prepare the jetski and IRB for the rescue.

Kel had the jetski at the water’s edge, ready for Richard’s arrival. Jumping aboard, Richard made his way along the bushy coastline from Elizabeth Beach past Shelly Beach, to where Ambulance officers were signaling to two patients in the water.

“I was surprised how far they had drifted, it was almost 1.5 kilometres from Elizabeth Beach,” said Richard. “The report was that there was one person in the water, conscious and waving for assistance, so that was what I was looking for,” he said. “I saw two people and they were both very much hypothermic and in shock.”

When he reached the couple the man was holding up the woman who was clutching her phone in the air. The man explained the woman’s leg was badly broken.

“I tried to get the woman on the sled as best I could,” said Richard. “The husband tried to assist me. When they were secure we slowly made our way back to Elizabeth Beach. It took about 10 minutes.”

Dan Morgan and Jerrad Allen aboard an inflatable rescue boat met the jetski on the way back to assist. Due to the woman’s severe injuries, it was safer to leave her on the jetski sled rather than risk transferring her into the IRB.

Conditions continued to deteriorate with a large swell and strong winds making the trip back to the club longer and more challenging than usual. Richard said he stopped a number of times to ensure the woman’s broken leg was stable and the patients were secured on the back of the ski.

After making it back to the safety of the beach, Richard and the patients were met by members of the Pacific Palms call out team and Police.

Dan said, “There were multiple members who met us to assist in the triage role.” 

At the clubhouse, Jerrad, Dan, Jeanette and Kel used their advanced first aid skills to stabilise the patients while they waited for the Ambulance officers to arrive. Both were suffering hypothermia and shock, while the man had lacerations to his arm and the woman had broken both bones in her left leg.  

Dan is confident that without a doubt, life jackets saved the couple’s lives. He recounted that after talking to the couple after the incident, the woman said she had resisted wearing a life jacket, but was convinced by her husband that it was crucial.

“Generally, rock fishers in the area don’t wear life jackets but this couple did,” he said. “Lucky for them they did. Both their injuries meant they couldn’t swim effectively and they had heavy wet weather clothing on that would have taken them straight to the bottom without life jackets.”

The couple are residents in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and were regular rock fishers. They were familiar with the mandatory life jacket legislation in force in the Randwick LGA and this behaviour alone contributed to them surviving their ordeal. They were in the water for almost an hour.

Despite being a small club of only 30 members, the Pacific Palms SLSC call out team is experienced with a number of critical incidents and search and rescues in their isolated region.

A proud Director of Lifesaving Kel says, “I can’t thank the team enough. They’re experienced and good at what they do. For what they do for our club and Surf Life Saving they are amazing, they’re a great bunch of people.”

Dan Morgan added that like all incidents, he couldn’t thank his community enough, “Our crew exuded confidence and professionalism and that really makes a difference to patients and our outcomes.”

“Without the dedicated, fast response of the team, it is very unlikely the couple would have survived,” Richard said. “Our Support Operations teams are vitally important to the community, particularly outside patrol hours and at this time of year. Everyone works together like clockwork and to have a major rescue like this end up with positive outcome, it really shows the value and the capability of what we do.”

This rescue was awarded the May/June 2019 State and National Rescue of the Month.

View previous NSW Rescue of the Month winners.

Pacific Palms Rescue of the Month
Kel McCredie, Richard Ellery receive Rescue of the Month award from Hon Dr David Gillespie at Parliament House, Canberra on 9 September 2019


Monday 9 September 2019