December 15, 2019 - January 19, 2020: Issue 433


Holiday Rescues Win Lifesavers National Rescue of the Month Awards

A group of off-duty surf lifesavers, who emerged as unsung heroes after performing back-to-back rescues at the remote Seven Mile Beach on the NSW Lower North Coast, have been presented with the National Rescue of the Month Award by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hosted a function at Canberra's Parliament House on 2 December to honour the commitment, bravery and achievement of volunteer surf lifesavers across Australia. The awards recognised outstanding rescues performed between July and October this year. 

“I want to say thank you very much, for everyone across the surf life saving movement. You keep Australians safe and you do it as one of the most wonderful traditions of our country,” Prime Minister Morrison said.

Alex Taylor from Mona Vale SLSC and Jemima McGahey from Palm Beach SLSC were among those who received awards. They were on a camping holiday over the October long weekend when they responded to an emergency.

They were relaxing at a beachside campground in the Booti Booti National Park when a member of the public ran into their campsite yelling and asking for help to rescue some children struggling to stay afloat in the surf.

“When I heard there were kids in trouble, I immediately kicked off my thongs, cleared my pockets and went straight out,” said Alex Taylor.

“I saw two kids in a rip with bodyboards close to shore. My assessment was that they were okay, but I could see an older guy out the back in trouble and going under.

“I swam out to him and put him on his back and swam him out of the rip,” said Alex.

Being keen surfers, Alex’s friends had longboards with them. Thinking quickly, Jemima McGahey grabbed her board and paddled out to Alex and the man and assisted him back to shore on the board.

"It's lucky that we took our longboards with us," Jemima McGahey said.

"Alex was the real hero though. He is a strong swimmer and went out to get the man without hesitation," she said.

The rescued man, Aref Elmustapha, was with a large group of people.

“He was not in a good way. He was out of breath, off colour and he’d taken on water,” said Alex.

They called Triple Zero and waited with the Aref until paramedics arrived.

Aref was on a father-son camping holiday with a group of over 40 men who attend the Belmore Mosque in Western Sydney. Leader of the group, Sheik Chami, thanked the lifesavers for their assistance.

“There’s a verse in the Quran that says if you save one life, it’s like you’ve saved the life of all humanity. Every life is important. Every life is valuable. Every life is priceless,” said Sheik Chami.

“The fact that you’re willing to save one life means you have the ability to save every person. That’s something very admirable and something we appreciate very much,” he said.

To say thank-you for rescuing their friend, the men invited Alex, Jemima to join them for lunch the next day at their campsite. The lifesavers seized the opportunity to give the group some tips on beach safety.

“They were such a lovely group of men. They took all our advice on board, like how to signal for help and float until they were rescued,” said Jemima.

“Lunch was great,” said Alex enthusiastically. “We got the chance to talk to them about beach safety, the dangers of rips and advised them not to swim where they were swimming the previous day.  

“They were too shaken up immediately after the incident to talk about it and so was I to be honest,” Alex admitted. “But at lunch the next day we all had a good chat about it.”

Despite the successful lesson on beach safety, Alex, Jemima and their friends’ lifesaving duties were far from over for the weekend.

“We were sitting there having a great lunch when someone came running up and said, ‘we need you again’. I couldn’t believe it. We ran straight down to the beach,” said Alex.

Alex and Ryan Metelovski got down to the beach first and saw four people caught in the same rip. They dived straight into the water.

“Ryan pulled two guys out on body boards close to shore but there were two other people in the rip being swept out, so I swam out to them,” said Alex.

Two people were struggling to stay above the water. One was a man in his forties, the other a teenage boy. Alex reached the boy, reassured him and swam him out of the rip.

“We pulled the two guys out. They were in a bad way. They were both vomiting and had taken on water,” said Alex.

For the second time that weekend, Gemma Keers called Triple Zero and monitored the patients until help arrived.

“We were a well-oiled machine by then,” said Alex wryly.

“In fact, one of the paramedics, who had also attended the incident the day before said, ‘aren’t you guys supposed to be on holiday'?’”.

Reflecting on the incident, Alex said that there were so many people in distress, he found the situation almost overwhelming.

“I thought we’d probably lose someone. It was the scariest rescue I’ve ever done,” said Alex.

“If we weren’t there, people would have drowned. I’m certain about that," Alex concluded.

Surf Life Saving Australia’s National Rescue Medals are an initiative that recognises the courageous and outstanding achievements of our surf lifesavers and members on our coastal waterways.

By Surf Life Saving New South Wales