Lifesavers Greg Hackfath and Daley Bear watch over Park Beach.
Lifesavers Greg Hackfath and Daley Bear watch over Park Beach. Rachel Vercoe

Silent, quick and devastating

COFFS Harbour lifeguard Greg Hackfath has been patrolling the coast's beaches for about 20 years now, and one can safely assume he's seen it all.

"Most people think it would be a noisy incident from what they see in movies, but it just doesn't happen like that in real life,” he laments over the horrific 18 drownings that have taken place in NSW since Christmas.

"It's silent, and quick.”

Four of the recent drowning deaths have been on the North Coast.

"You could be sitting 2-4 metres away from someone who's drowning and you wouldn't even know,” Mr Hackfath says.

Arguably the most high-profile drowning case on the North Coast this holiday season has been the death of Geoffrey Blackadder, who died tragically on Boxing Day while trying to save his brother's grandchildren at Wooli Beach.

Mr Hackfath said that while no drownings had happened on Coffs Coast beaches, near-drownings were still an issue.

He revealed an incident occurred at Coffs Creek which saw some children encounter trouble after swimming out of their depth, while a parent then also found themselves in trouble when trying to rescue them.

A few people were apparently swimming near McCauleys Head and were taken 1.5km away from the patrol flags after getting caught in a rip.

Again, a person who attempted to rescue them found themselves in trouble.

Mr Hackfath says people attempting rescues are putting themselves in danger because they often are not prepared for the conditions, where a floatation device is essential.

"It's a spontaneous reaction when you see someone struggling in the water, but you've got to respond, not react,” he said.

"You need a floatation device to hold on to to keep yours and the other person's head above water.

"It's hard enough for us, but if the average person jumps in without a floatation device, they're going to become a victim.”

Mr Hackfath adds that following a simple two rules can be the difference between life and death when swimming - never go somewhere alone, and only swim at patrolled beaches.

This summer he has found most swimmers are following the rules to keep themselves safe, but admits trouble always arises from the few who fail to swim in the flag area.

"Drowning is tragic at best, but I believe it is preventable,” he said.



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