Rock Fisher rescued as lifeboats race

Rock Fisher rescued as lifeboats race

A 34-year-old rock fisherman narrowly escaped drowning after being washed into the sea at Pretty Point near Batemans Bay this morning, thanks to the skills of a highly experienced inflatable lifeboat (IRB) crew.

Rock Fisher rescued as lifeboats race

Volunteer driver Anthony Bellette and crew member Ben Ralston received the call from the Surf Life Saving State Operations Center just after 11 a.m. They headed straight to the surf club to launch the IRB, making several attempts to get off the beach safely into the large, strong surfing conditions.

“It took a few times to negotiate the break; the surf was pretty big,” Bellette said.

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 the scene but could not get close enough to attempt a rescue. The man was not wearing a life jacket, and although his fishing vest provided some buoyancy, the helicopter crew feared he would not be able to stay afloat for long by the time the boat arrived.

Coincidentally, just 15 minutes further south at Broulee, the NSW Sharkskin IRB Premiership racing event took place. Had the Batemans Bay callout team been unavailable, there would have been over 30 IRBs and several hundred highly skilled rescuers on hand that could have helped.

A short time later, the IRB arrived on the scene and was sent to the site with live radio updates from the helicopter.

“You do everything you can to get there as quickly as possible. But at the same time, because of the size of the swell, we had to make sure we did everything as safely as possible for our boys.

“The helicopter played a pretty big role in locating the patient. We could go straight to him and not waste time searching. A local surfer with a drone actually saw the guy go into the water and did a great job watching him until we could get there.

Just after 11:30 a.m., the patient, conscious and breathing, was hoisted into the boat and taken to McKenzies Beach for treatment and transportation by NSW Ambulance. Lifesavers also rescued two other fishermen who were in danger in the same location.

Today’s emergency was the second rock fishing incident in two months in the same spot. “It can be very 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,” Bellette said.

“Our support team, on land to provide us with information and assistance, played a very important role. So we didn’t have to go back out; they ensured everyone was accountable. It was a great result, and it was nice to walk away from it knowing the man is okay.”

Half an hour earlier, Bellette had watched the high-octane IRB races at Broulee and reminisced about his earlier racing days with the Batemans Bay team. He is convinced that the sport contributes greatly to the greater ability of rescuers to perform rescues in challenging conditions.

“I looked at them and thought, god, I wish I did it again! Everyone went to college, and we lost all the excited youngsters involved. It’s so much fun, it’s such a great sport.

“IRB racing is very important. You definitely notice the driver and crews racing together and know each other very well, they know their boats inside and out, and they know how to read each other and get into big swell and rescue situations; it’s important to know who you are with and can rely on your crew.

“IRB racing definitely helps refine those things, and all the guys on Broulee beach, you could tell by their skills. It was just amazing to watch.”

Surf Life Saving NSW has issued a Hazardous Surf Warning ahead of the long weekend, highlighting the extreme dangers of rock fishing due to the powerful southerly swell that affects much of the coast.

Sunday 12 June 2022