Off-duty surf lifesavers and lifeguards have been acknowledged with the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month award for saving four lives in an outstanding rescue at Toowoon Bay.
The citation is in recognition of members of both Shelly Beach and Toowoon Bay Surf Life Saving Clubs and Central Coast Council lifeguards.
Lifesavers and lifeguards involved in the rescue were Steve Lee, Julie-Ann and Chris Fillingham, Maoi and Angel Lalovi Gafa, Jazzmyn Fillingham, Huxely Luntungan, Riley Wait, Ashton Walters, Jeremie Camgrand, Keaton Watts and Christian Wait.
It was just before 6pm on Monday, February 22, when a local kiteboarder spotted three swimmers struggling in a rip a long way from Toowoon Bay Beach.
Beach patrols had closed for the day and the surf conditions were challenging, currents were strong and moving quickly.
The kiteboarder got the attention of two Shelly Beach lifesavers, Maoi and Angel Lalovi Gafa, who were also in the water on their racing boards before the start of a weekly training session.
They paddled straight to the swimmers who were about 500m away, while the kiteboarder returned to shore to raise the alarm and get additional help.
Drawing on their training and rescue skills, the pair assessed the swimmers together before Angel began to head back towards the beach to signal for assistance, while Maoi stayed with the group and reassured them.
On the beach, Julie-Ann and Chris Fillingham, members of Shelly Beach and Toowoon Bay surf clubs had arrived and were being briefed by the kiteboarder.
They began to co-ordinate the situation, instructing some members of the Shelly Beach Senior Training Group to head out and assist with bringing the swimmers to shore.
The rescue team then found out that the struggling swimmers had become separated, and a fourth swimmer was missing.
The Surf Life Saving Support Operations team was notified and off-duty lifeguards started to prepare a rubber duckie and jetski for launching from Toowoon Bay Surf Club.
Three of the swimmers were safely paddled to shore by the Shelly Beach team while others on shore were scanning the water looking for the missing swimmer.
Finally, the fourth person was spotted about 400m north of the Club House, near one of the outside reefs.
Two lifesavers paddled out to the distressed swimmer and the rubber duckie met them to take the swimmer back to shore.
“No one hesitated and everyone knew what they had to do and what their part was in the rescue,” said Julie-Ann Fillingham, who is also a Central Coast Surf Life Saving Duty Officer.
Back on the beach, the rescued swimmers were assessed by paramedics before being transported to hospital.
“On reflection, the seriousness and success of the mass rescue really hit me,” Fillingham said.
“If we weren’t there, those people would have died.
“It was very rough, but the competency of the group resulted in a really successful rescue.
“This is what we do, this is why we train, but what is amazing to watch is the immediate, capable and selfless response of our members when something happens.
“They just switch on and that’s what allows up to save lives,” Fillingham said.
The rescue team has been praised and congratulated by Surf Life Saving NSW Director, Joel Wiseman, for their efficiency, professionalism, skill and teamwork.