2021 AMSA National Search and Rescue Awards: NSW police dive unit and water Police recognised for efforts in dangerous recovery and record-long yacht tow
Officers from the Marine Area Command involved in a dangerous mission to recover two women swept into a whirlpool in the Blue Mountains, and a record-long yacht tow to save three sailors near Lord Howe Island, have been recognised for their efforts in national search and rescue awards.
The 2021 National Search and Rescue Awards recognise individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to search and rescue in Australia between 1 July 2020 – 30 June 2021, with recipients announced at the National Search and Rescue Council annual meeting on Wednesday October 20th 2021.
The Professional Search and Rescue Award was awarded to NSW Police Divers, Senior Sergeant Raymond Busby, Sergeant Josh Lisle, Sergeant Steven Wye, Senior Constable Tim Boardman, and Senior Constable Ryan Good, for their efforts in the Blue Mountains rescue.
On the afternoon of Saturday January 2nd 2021, a group of canyoners were traveling on inflatable lilos down the Wollangambe River, Mount Wilson, when a 24-year-old woman was swept into a whirlpool and disappeared.
Off-duty Senior Constable Kelly Foster – a highly regarded officer from Chifley Police District – was among the group and attempted to rescue the woman before she was also swept in.
As part of the emergency response in the wake of the tragedy, NSW Police Divers hiked into the canyon for about two hours with heavy dive equipment. They entered the water to search for the women in the whirlpool in an enclosed, confined environment, where there was a high risk of becoming trapped or tangled with their dive equipment.
“Despite the strong currents and presence of an underwater whirlpool, the officers were able to retrieve the deceased persons so they could be returned to their families,” said Mark Morrow from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the National Search and Rescue Council Secretariat.
“This incident was physically and mentally fatiguing for the officers involved and their efforts under the challenging circumstances were truly outstanding,” said Mr Morrow.
NSW Police Diver, Senior Sergeant Raymond Busby, said none of the divers who responded to the incident had ever been faced with the challenges of a whirlpool before.
“We didn’t know what lay ahead, no one had dived into a whirlpool before, but we all know there is always a risk when we enter the water,” Sgt. Busby said.
“In this scenario, the risk was worth it to find the women so we could ensure they were returned to their families.
“Sadly, this incident is a reflection of what we do daily, and I am grateful that the team has received recognition for their actions, despite the circumstances being so tragic,” Sgt Busby said.
Professional Award - NSW Police Dive Unit - image supplied by NSW Police
Officers from Port Stephens Water Police were also recognised for their outstanding contribution to search and rescue in Australia, receiving a Commendation in the Professional Search and Rescue category.
Sergeant Tony Hogg, Senior Constable Matthew Gray, and Senior Constable Nicholas Leach were recognised for their efforts in a 54-hour operation to rescue three sailors from a troubled 11.5m yacht, the Solar Coaster.
The NSW Marine Area Command received a distress call from the crew on Monday November 9 2020, 100 nautical miles west of Lord Howe Island.
The yacht’s mast had broken, leaving the crew to navigate the vessel through large swell and strong currents with an underpowered engine.
The officers monitored the yacht over 48-hours before it became clear the crew – facing fatigue, as well as food and water shortages – wouldn’t reach the mainland without assistance.
Officers from the Marine Area Command then conducted one of the longest non-stop tows by their command in NSW.
The officers covered more than 400 nautical miles, with seas up to five metres and winds over 40 knots, to bring the men and yacht safely back to shore.
The operation took a total of 54-hours.
“The officers from Port Stephens Marine Area Command conducted this operation in extreme conditions and saved the lives of three men,” said Mr Morrow.
“All three crew performed their duties as police officers and mariners with extreme professionalism and courage under adverse ocean conditions and I consider them to be an exemplary example of ‘Outstanding Contribution to Search and Rescue’ in Australia,” said Mr Morrow.
Port Stephens Water Police, Sergeant Tony Hogg, said the job was one of the most challenging rescues of his career.
"The sea conditions were very ordinary to say the least, we were getting continually battered on our starboard side for about 50 of the 54 hours we were at sea, but the professionalism and training of my team allowed for a successful outcome," Sgt. Hogg said.
"Being an officer attached to the Marine Area Command has provided me with some challenging and truly unique experiences, which I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to be involved in.
“The satisfaction you get out of a rescue of this nature is very hard to explain, but we are extremely grateful we were able to successfully rescue these three men and reunite them with their families,” Sgt. Hogg said.
Marine Area Command Chief Inspector Joe McNulty said the professionalism of the divers and Port Stephens officers is nothing less than admirable.
“They undertook two very difficult, high-risk, challenging operations in adverse weather and aquatic conditions,” said Chief Inspector McNulty.
“The Police Dive team developed a recovery methodology to return the two women to their families. Their actions were nothing less than brave under these extreme operational conditions.
“The Port Stephens rescue took 54 hours to complete, with a police crew surviving on minimal rest and sleep. Their professionalism, resilience and personal endurance were truly remarkable,” said Mr McNulty.
Professional Commendation - NSW Marine Command vessel and yacht - image supplied by NSW Police
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) would like to congratulate the recipients of this year's National Search and Rescue Council’s (NATSAR) Australian Search and Rescue Awards.
The awards are presented by the NATSAR Council in recognition of outstanding contribution to search and rescue within the Australian region.
AMSA Executive Director Response, Mr Mark Morrow, said it was a great honour to be able to recognise the brave actions of the recipients.
“The actions of these recipients cannot be understated,” Mr Morrow said.
“They have put themselves in harm’s way to save lives and brought the families of those who were tragically lost some peace; all the while displaying incredible bravery in the process.
“This year there were three categories for the awards: Professional, Non-Professional and Long-Standing Contribution to Search and Rescue.
“In the Professional Category, the NSW Police Dive Unit displayed immense courage in a physically demanding operation they carried out in a remote canyon.
“The winners of the Non-Professional Award category were a father son duo, Andrew and Samuel Coronis; who saved the lives of a man, woman and their dog near Moreton Bay.
“The Long-Standing Contribution Award saw Volunteer Marine Rescue Southport be recognised for over five decades of continuous services; including 2,500,000 hours of service and 80,000 lives assisted across an incredible 35,000 rescue activations.
“We also saw some amazing stories being recognised as commendations for each award. Being able to recognise such incredible work, passion and dedication to helping others is a privilege that AMSA is proud to be part of.
“These commendable acts are at the heart of our values as Australians, and I am proud to be able to congratulate the recipients on receiving these significant awards.
“Thank you for your service to our community.”
The winners of the 2021 Australian Search and Rescue awards are:
Professional Search and Rescue Award 2021
Winners: NSW Police Dive Unit Senior Sergeant Raymond Busby, Sergeant Josh Lisle, Sergeant Steven Wye, Senior Constable Tim Boardman, Senior Constable Ryan Good.
Commendation: NSW Police Marine Area Command Sergeant Tony Hogg, Senior Constable Matthew Gray, Senior Constable Nicholas Leach.
Non-Professional Search and Rescue Award 2021
Winners: Andrew Peter Coronis and Samuel Michael Coronis.
Commendation: Captain Rohit Upadhyay, Chief Officer Santosh Kumar and the crew of the ship Godam.
Long-standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Award 2021
Winners: Southport Volunteer Marine Rescue.
Commendation: Mr Francis Egan.
Non-Professional Search and Rescue Award
Recipients: Samuel Michael Coronis and Andrew Peter Coronis
On the morning of Sunday August 2nd 2020 in the South Passage Bar, Moreton Bay, QLD. Samuel and Andrew Coronis were returning to Brisbane in their fishing vessel. Conditions were 2.5-3m swells and approximately 12-15 knot winds. In the process of returning home, Samuel and Andrew discovered a semi-submerged vessel with its bow out of the water, they found a male and female in distress as well as their canine companion. Samuel called triple zero as Andrew manoeuvred the vessel closer to the persons in the water. Samuel instinctively dived into the water with two life jackets and swam towards them.
The female was caught up in a crab pot rope which was wrapped around her neck and strangling her. Samuel removed the ropes and fishing line from both parties. In the meantime, Andrew was able to retrieve the canine from the water. The female was unconscious when pulled to safety onboard their vessel and CPR was successfully administered by Andrew.
Samuel and Andrew’s act of selflessness ultimately saved the lives of two people. Their empathy and courageous attributes during the rescue are a fine example of exactly what the National Search and Rescue Awards represent.
Left: 'Streaker' - the pup saved. Right: Rescue underway. Images: QLD Police media unit.
Andrew Peter Coronis and Samuel Michael Coronis. Image: Andrew Peter Coronis
Non-Professional Search and Rescue Commendation
Recipients: Captain Rohit Upadhyay, Chief Officer Santosh Kumar and the Crew of MT Godam
On December 3rd 2020 in the Torres Strait, the crew of the MT Godam displayed excellent professionalism and skill in rescuing two fishermen clinging to life on a piece of wood after their fishing boat had capsized.
The Torres Strait is known for its dangerous reefs and strong flowing current. On the day of the rescue the crew encountered rough weather conditions which hampered their visibility. The crew lost sight of the fisherman three times but persisted with the rescue. Upon sighting the fisherman a fourth time, it was noted that there were predatory hammerhead sharks circling the men.
A smoke marker and man overboard (MOB) lifebuoy were deployed, the fisherman grabbed a hold of the MOB and the MT Godam was moved within 1.5 meters from the fisherman so that the crew could easily catch the buoy and rescue one of the fishermen. A rescue helicopter was tasked to retrieve the other fishermen. It was noted that the survivors had been in the water for over 17 hours.
The precision by which the rescue was carried out given the circumstances and the assistance provided by the Master, Chief Officer and the crew of MT Godam was incredible.
Non-Professional Commendation - MT Godam - AMSA Challenger aircraft image from the incident.
Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Award
Recipient: Southport Volunteer Marine Rescue
Volunteer Marine Rescue Southport has been in operation since the late 1960s, throughout this time its members have continuously provided maritime search and rescue services to those operating vessels in the waters of the Gold Coast region.
The current VMR Southport Unit operates under a service agreement with the Queensland Government’s Fire and Emergency Department that requires the unit to undertake a broad range of SAR activities including responding if a surface vessel has requested assistance, transmitted a distress signal, is apparently in distress, is reported to be overdue, is unable to make a safe haven or is sinking or has sunk.
It is estimated that in the 50+ years that Southport VMR has been in operation there have been: in excess of 35,000 rescue activations, 2,500,000 volunteer hours contributed, over 80,00 persons returned to safety, 1.8 million litres of fuel used in the 28 rescue vessels that have been part of the fleet over the half-century; and tens of millions of dollars of property saved from the perils of the ocean.
In order for Southport VMR to achieve its high level of SAR support for those operating their vessels in the Gold Coat waters, they have a 24/7 radio operator and 6 crews, consisting of 12-14 individuals who operate a 24 hour shift over each weekend, including public holidays.
Southport VMR crews include a fully qualified Queensland ambulance service first responder. These professional qualifications provide the ability to stabilise individuals prior to the arrival of more qualified personnel. The fact that there are multiple volunteers qualified in this role demonstrates the professionalism of the VMR Southport crews.
For the past 50 years VMR Southport has ‘walked the talk’ regarding saving and assisting lives and property at sea and providing personnel and equipment in order to carry out search and rescue operations at sea and on the Gold Coast waterways.
Long-standing Award - VMR Southport crew - 1985 - image supplied by VMR Southport
Long-standing Award - 2021 VMR Southport Management Committee - image supplied by VMR Southport
Long-standing Award - VMR Southport vessel - Marine Rescue 2 - image supplied by VMR Southport
Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation
Recipient: Francis Egan
Mr Francis “Frank” Egan has been recognised for the Long-Standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation based on his 54 years of dedicated service to the volunteer marine search and rescue sector in Victoria. Frank was a founding member of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard and has served in many roles at various flotillas in Victoria.
Unfortunately, the record keeping systems have only provided electronic records back to the early 90's, but available records indicate Frank has achieved over 5,000 sea hours specifically related to marine search and rescue. In addition to this, Frank has not only dedicated the last 54 years of service to helping the boating community, but he has also been instrumental in training thousands of marine search and rescue volunteers in Victoria.
There is no specific incident that makes Frank eligible for this award, rather, it is the countless and selfless years of service dedicated to marine search and rescue. There is no doubt Frank is responsible for saving hundreds of lives at sea during this time, while also having direct involvement in returning deceased who lost their lives at sea to their families following extended on-water searches.
Frank Egan. Image supplied by Mr. Egan