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Powerful surf conditions on Boxing Day may have closed their beach but that didn’t stop the dutiful surf lifesavers from Windang SLSC from carrying out a mass rescue that subsequently earned the group the prestigious National and NSW Rescue of the Month award for December.

Doug Hockey and Kaye Norris were on patrol duties when they decided to do a roving patrol with the ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) to the southern end of Windang Beach at around 3pm.

This patch of beach also includes the opening to Lake Illawarra and break wall and is a notoriously difficult spot for swimmers who are unfamiliar with the area.

When they got to the breakwall Doug noticed that there were six swimmers who were in obvious distress as they were being swept out to sea by the outgoing tide.

Doug parked the vehicle on the break wall to ensure that a quick rescue effort could be launched, grabbed a rescue board from the roof and entered the water.

Kaye realised she would need to get out there with a rescue tube so she radioed back to patrol captain Nic Digenni for backup before she herself entered the water.

Conditions were quite choppy at the time with two-metre sets consistently rolling in. Doug managed to get to the closest three female swimmers and urged them to hang onto the rescue board, while Kaye made her way to two other swimmers who were drifting about 30 metres further out.

While they floated together in a group Doug tried to keep them calm by reassuring them that help was on the way. Out of the corner of his eye Doug noticed that another man who was floating on a surfboard nearby was beginning to panic and lost his board. Just as Doug began to fear the situation would escalate, the IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) arrived and Doug was very relieved to see the crew pluck the man from the water.

IRB crewmen Jason Norris and Russell Trott expertly negotiated the challenging conditions and made three trips to ferry everyone safely to shore. During one of these trips one of the rescued swimmers became frantic as he was concerned there was a child who had also been carried out in the tide.

This initiated a search of the area but fortunately the child was located safe and well on the beach. Even the man’s surfboard was later recovered and returned to its grateful owner.

A modest Doug Hockey said it was a very challenging rescue and that it was a combined effort of all the lifesavers from his patrol that ensured the successful outcome.

“That area is really difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing and it looks like they got trapped by the tide and were being dragged out of the lake mouth. I’m just so pleased we did a roving patrol that day because this could have ended very differently,” he said.

Fellow lifesaver Kaye Norris said it was a real honour to be recognised by the wider Surf Life Saving community.

“I think for me this rescue is a validation of all the training and skills that we learn over the years as lifesavers. We don’t do it for the awards or for the recognition but it gives me a real thrill to prove to myself that when my skills were called upon I was able to deliver.

“As a long term trainer I teach a lot of these skills to aspiring surf lifesavers but a lot of that is theory, and this was the first time I really had to put it into practice. We had such a good team and everyone worked together so to receive this recognition is a really humbling experience,” Kaye Norris said.

Windang SLSC will be presented with their National Rescue of the Month award at Parliament House on Thursday 9 February 2017.

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.


Friday 27 January 2017