Surf tragedy avoided by quick thinking locals
TIME spent in the surf on the Northern Beaches came terrifyingly close to ending in tragedy for 71-year-old Colin Barker after his neck was crushed by a powerful wave.
Colin and his wife Judy were caravanning in Woolgoolga to escape winter in their home city of Melbourne just on six weeks ago.
"Dad was body surfing, he's experienced at the beach and was catching the last wave back in and thinks a wave must have crashed from behind and smashed his head into the sand," Colin's daughter Natalie Barker-Dawson said.
"He knew straight away something was wrong. He had problems moving and was in a lot of pain with no neck or head control. He had to hold his head on his neck.
Dealing with pain and holding his head while waves continued to crash around him, he managed to raise an arm and call for help.
Unlike previous times he'd been out surfing in the days before, he was lucky there were other people in the surf to come to his aid.
"Two boys, Tomas and Patrick and a third man, Graeme came over to help. They thought he was having a heart attack, put him on a body board and took him into shore.
An ambulance was called by a local teacher and those assisting kept Colin calm and still before help arrived.
Colin was taken to the Coffs Harbour Health Campus before being airlifted to Newcastle.
"Dad was in and out of consciousness. He was airlifted on Saturday night, had his neck fused on Wednesday and walked out of the place on Friday.
"Four vertebrae in his neck have been fused, one was smashed but part of it was still in tact which is the only reason he's not a quadriplegic or on a breathing ventilator.
"To hear him talk about it made me sick. What he did to get help and still retain movement in his neck is a lot of karma coming back his way, he's a really good person.
In the wake of the accident, the Barker family wanted to find out who the people were that saved Colins life.
Natalie took to a community Facebook page with a call out to find the people involved and thank them.
Within 15 minutes, Thomas had been found and it wasn't long before the others were too.
"I've been feeling very useless and thank you is never ever going to be enough. It's better than nothing and we wanted to find them. We didn't' know it would be going into the storm of craziness that's been happening by it.
"I still don't even have the words, I think so many times people are quick to bag out the younger generation but there's good in everyone. Something like this might change their lives.
16-year-old Tomas West who was in the right place at the right time to help Colin said, "a few days after the accident I was really worried about him and if he was all good."
"Knowing I helped him at the time made me feel good because if me and my mate weren't there, he would of drowned. Also just knowing that it could of been tragic and someone lost there life at my local beach would of had me thinking twice before going out."
Colin and Judy are still caravanning and have moved on to the Sunshine Coast. Natalie said Judy told Colin no more surf, he can have a pool.
There are plans in the works for the Parker family to meet Colin's rescuers.