Skip to main content

Off-duty surf lifesavers and lifeguards who stood up together to save four lives in a successful coordinated rescue effort on the Central Coast have been awarded the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month award in recognition of their achievements.


It was just before 6pm on a warm Monday evening on 22 February when a local Toowoon Bay kiteboarder spotted a group of three swimmers struggling in a rip a long way from the beach.

All the Central Coast beach patrols had closed for the day and the swell was strong enough that it was even impacting the usually calm Toowoon Bay.

The man got the attention of two Shelly Beach SLSC lifesavers Maoi and Angel Lalovi Gafa who were also in the water on their racing boards before the start of a weekly training session.

Maoi and Angel paddled straight to the swimmers who were about 500 metres away while the kiteboarder returned to shore to raise the alarm and get additional help. The surf conditions were challenging and the currents were strong and moving quickly.

Drawing on their training and rescue skills the pair assessed the swimmers together before Angel began to head back towards the beach to signal for assistance while Maoi stayed with the group and reassured them.

On the beach, Julie-Ann and Chris Fillingham, members of Shelly Beach and Toowoon Bay surf clubs had arrived and were being briefed by the kiteboarder.

They began to coordinate the situation, instructing a group of the Shelly Beach Senior Training Group (Jazzmyn Fillingham Huxely Luntungan, Riley Wait, Ashton Walters and Jeremie Camgrand) to head out to assist Maoi with bringing the swimmers to shore. Without hesitation the group paddled out through the large surf.

Chris and Julie-Ann were then informed by local surfers that the group had been separated and one of the initial group of four was missing. At this point they called triple zero to activate the Surf Life Saving Support Operations team to assist with the search and rescue.

With a swimmer now unaccounted for, Chris and Julie-Ann headed to Toowoon Bay Surf Club to get the IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) and RWC (jetski) ready to launch. Off-duty lifeguards Rob Coote and Wade Clemens took over the RWC launch to allow Julie-Ann and Chris to both continue scanning the beach for the missing person.

Together, each one of the team was working to bring four people back to the beach safely.

It was about 400 metres north of the club, near one of the outside reefs, that the missing person was spotted by Julie-Ann and Chris. They advised Keaton Watts and Christian Wait (Shelly Beach SLSC) who were able to immediately grab boards and paddle out to help with the operation.

Rob and Wade who launched the RWC were joined by lifeguard Saxon Lumsden. Together they went directly to the located swimmer in distress.

“No one hesitated and everyone knew what they had to do and what their part was,” said Julie-Ann who is also a Surf Life Saving Central Coast Duty Officer.

The group of three were now being safely paddled to shore by the Shelly Beach team while the fourth swimmer was met by the RWC and returned to shore.

Back on the beach the group of rescued swimmers were assessed by paramedics before being transported to hospital.

On reflection, the seriousness and success of the mass rescue hit Julie-Ann, “if we weren’t there those people would have died. It was very rough but the competency of the group resulted in a really successful rescue,” she said.

“This is what we do, this is why we train, but what is amazing to watch is the immediate, capable and selfless response of our members when something happens. They just switch on and that’s what allows us to save lives.”

The team has been praised by Surf Life Saving NSW Director of Lifesaving Joel Wiseman for their efficiency, skill and teamwork.

“It makes us so proud that our lifesavers are able to work so intuitively with professional lifeguards and other emergency services. The result of their capability in this case is four lives saved.

“Together with the Surf Life Saving NSW Board I congratulate the Shelly Beach and Toowoon Bay SLSC members on this great rescue and the Central Coast council lifeguards for the assistance and professionalism they brought to the incident.”

Shelly Beach SLSC has been awarded the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month for February 2021 for the outstanding rescue of four people at Toowoon Bay. Congratulations Steve Lee, Julie-Ann and Chris Fillingham, Maoi and Angel Lalovi Gafa, Jazzmyn Fillingham, Huxely Luntungan, Riley Wait, Ashton Walters, Jeremie Camgrand, Keaton Watts and Christian Wait.


Thursday 13 May 2021