Coffs Harbour Lifeguard Greg Hackfath. Photo: Nathan Edwards
Coffs Harbour Lifeguard Greg Hackfath. Photo: Nathan Edwards

RESCUES: One life lost, but many saved by Coffs’ lifeguards

ONE life was tragically lost, but 34 lives were saved in near-drowning incidents at Coffs Coast beaches over the past year.

That's according to statistics from Coffs Harbour City Council's lifeguards, who also revealed they helped another 37 people that needed assistance while in the ocean.

"Over 798,700 people visited our local patrolled beaches during our shifts over the past 12 months and we chalked up 12,770 preventive actions," Coffs lifeguard and team leader Greg Hackfath said.

"These included dealing with dog issues or vehicles on beaches, fires, board riders in the flagged area and other matters."

Lifeguards dealt with a total of 107 first aid cases including six that required hospitalisation.

They had to close beaches on 24 occasions due to lightning, bluebottles, sharks or flood water debris.

The team were required to assist emergency services with nine call outs - two of these being extensive searches.

One of these extensive searches was for 20-year-old Argentinian backpacker Ian Barr.

On January 20, Mr Barr was swept out to sea after becoming caught in a rip at Mullaway Beach.

 

A search was underway at Mullaway Beach on January 20, after 20-year-old Ian Barr was swept out to sea. Photo Frank Redward
A search was underway at Mullaway Beach on January 20, after 20-year-old Ian Barr was swept out to sea. Photo Frank Redward

 

Despite the best efforts of lifeguards and emergency services, Mr Barr tragically died.

Reflecting on the statistics, Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight had only praise for the city's lifeguards.

"Our lifeguards are among our most visible staff and they do a fantastic job all year round keeping our local and visitors as safe as possible," she said.

"I take my hat off to them."

 

'Respond, not react': Lifeguard's bid to reduce the drowning toll

In the previous summer of 2018-2019, the Coffs Coast made headlines following a horrific spate of drownings.

Four men lost their lives at Moonee Beach within a week in December, including three Indian nationals - aged, 45, 35 and 27 - and a 60-year-old Swiss national.

It is understood that the three Indian nationals Ghouseuddin Mohammed, Syed Rahath, and Junaid Mohd Abdul were attempting to rescue three teenage relatives at the time of their deaths. The relatives survived.

Three men lost their lives attempting to save three young relatives at Moonee Beach in December 2018. Pic: Nathan Edwards
Three men lost their lives attempting to save three young relatives at Moonee Beach in December 2018. Pic: Nathan Edwards

 

These tragic deaths prompted a new initiative to be trialled at Sawtell Beach this year where rescue tubes were made available for members of the public to use in an emergency.

The tubes are specially designed flotation devices, normally used by lifeguards or lifesavers to assist in water rescues, that help support the victim's and rescuer's weight to make a rescue easier.

The trial was proposed by Mr Hackfath and former lifeguard and Sawtell Surf Lifesaving Club member Mick McGavigan.

Mr McGavigan had long supported providing a remote rescue device, such as a rescue tube, at key locations along the coast.

"This was a great joint initiative and complemented the message we've been pushing this year urging people to respond, not react," Mr Hackfath said.

"If people see someone in trouble they should, in the first instance, try and alert the lifeguards. But if it looks like they might need to try and do a rescue themselves, they should always grab a flotation device.

"At the end of the day, they need to keep their heads above water, as well as the person they're trying to help. Responding, not just reacting is the way to help save lives."



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