A 34 year-old rock fisherman narrowly escaped drowning after being washed into the sea at Pretty Point near Batemans Bay on Sunday 12 June, thanks to the skills of a highly experienced Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) crew.
Volunteer driver Anthony Bellette and crewman Ben Ralston received the callout from the Surf Life Saving State Operations Centre just after 11am and went straight to the surf club to launch the IRB, taking several attempts to get off the beach safely in the large, powerful surf conditions.
“It took a couple of goes to negotiate the break, the surf was pretty big,” said Bellette.
Meanwhile the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was overhead and was able to provide valuable updates on the patient’s location and condition. A volunteer Marine Rescue vessel was also on scene but could not get close enough to attempt a rescue. The man was not wearing a lifejacket and although his fishing vest was providing some buoyancy, the crew of the chopper were concerned he would not be able to stay afloat for long by the time the boat arrived.
Serendipitously, just 15 minutes further south at Broulee, the NSW Sharkskin IRB Premiership race event was taking place and if the Batemans Bay callout team hadn’t been available, there were more than 30 IRBs and several hundred highly skilled rescuers on hand who could have assisted.
The IRB arrived on scene a short time later, directed to the location by the live radio updates from the helicopter.
“You’re doing everything you can to get there as fast as possible. But at the same time, due to the size of the swell, we had to make sure we did everything as safe as possible for our guys.
“The chopper played a pretty big part in being able to locate the patient. We were able to go directly to him and not waste time searching. A local surfer with a drone actually spotted the guy go into the water and did an awesome job keeping on eye on him until we could get there.”
Just after 11.30am, the patient was hauled into the boat, conscious and breathing and taken to McKenzies Beach for treatment and transport by NSW Ambulance. Lifesavers also assisted two other fishermen to safety who were in danger at the same location.
Today’s emergency was the second rock fishing incident in two months at that same spot. “It can be really dangerous if you don’t know the area and don’t look at the conditions. There was nothing safe about that swell for rock fishing today. It was just dangerous,” said Bellette.
“Our support team that were on the land providing us with information and assistance played a really important part. So we didn’t have to go back out, they made sure everyone was accounted for. It was a great outcome and it was really nice to be able to walk away from it knowing that the fella is okay.”
Half an hour earlier, Bellette had been watching the high-octane IRB racing at Broulee and reminiscing about his former race days with the Batemans Bay team. He’s convinced the sport contributes greatly to the enhanced capability of lifesavers to conduct rescues in challenging circumstances.
“I was watching them thinking god I wish I was doing it again! Everyone went off to uni and we lost all the keen young ones who were into it. It’s so much fun, it’s such a great sport.
“IRB racing is a really important. You definitely notice the driver and crews who race together and know each other really well, they know their boats in and out and they know how to read each other and in big swells and going into rescue situations, it’s important to know who you’re with and be able to trust your crew.
“IRB racing definitely helps fine tune those things and all the guys who were at the beach at Broulee, you could really see that in their skills. It was just great to watch.”
Surf Life Saving NSW issued a Hazardous Surf Warning for the long weekend with a particular focus on the extreme dangers of rock fishing due the powerful southerly swells impacting much of the coast.
Sunday June 12, 2022