Two Garie Beach Surf Life Saving Club members have been recognised for a courageous rescue of a group of four swimmers, who became caught in a dangerous rip on the evening of Australia Day this year.

Paul Cootes and Jessika (Jess) Hay were presented with NSW Government Community Service Awards at the club’s annual presentation night by Heathcote MP Lee Evans.

The gathering was told that, but for the efforts of the two volunteer lifesavers, the three female and one male swimmer would almost certainly have perished.

The drama began about 6pm, an hour after the lifesavers had completed their patrol.

Paul and Jess were sitting on the balcony of the club when they noticed a group of people swimming near a rip at the south end of the beach, which the patrol had identified earlier that day.

They observed the group did not appear to be proficient swimmers. Members of the public and family on shore then began waving their arms in a call for help.

Seeing the four swimmers had been caught in the rip, Paul and Jess ran downstairs to the gear shed, Jess grabbing rescue tubes and running down the beach to provide immediate assistance, while Paul loaded the ATV (all terrain vehicle) with first aid equipment and a rescue board.

When Jess reached the scene, she found a male swimmer closest to shore, about 20 metres out, to be in most need of assistance and swam out to rescue him.

Jess identified a female patient, now separated from the group, about 50 metres further south and a further 50 metres out to sea.

Jess prioritised her as the patient requiring the most immediate assistance and swam out to rescue her.

Jess secured the patient and noted she had swallowed a lot of water before returning her to shore.

Paul now had the first patient in the recovery position and was administering first aid, which was made more difficult by numerous family members gathering around trying to assist.

With Paul being fully engaged, Jess handed the second patient to two waiting surfers and asked them to take her over to him for assessment.

Jess then turned her attention to the remaining two girls who were now over 100 metres to sea. They were screaming and were starting to go under.

As Jess began swimming out to them she saw Charlie Florey, the off-duty Wattamolla lifeguard, who was surfing about 200 metres north of them, had heard the girls screams and was paddling over to assist.

Charlie secured the two girls on his board. When Jess reached him, she took one of the girls in the rescue tube and swam her in while Charlie brought the other girl on his board. Upon reaching the shore Jess commenced a full assessment of all four patients.

The first male had been cleared by Paul and advised to seek medical attention if he remained fatigued. The second patient had been placed in the recovery position by Paul and a full assessment was underway. The third patient was placed in the recovery position by Charlie, with a pulse oximeter on and was being assessed. The fourth patient, assessed by Jess, was not showing signs of distress or water inhalation so was sat down and left to be watched over by some members of the public. Jess then commenced a second triage cycle on all patients.

Patient three was found to be stable and was being administered a small amount of oxygen by Charlie.

Patient two had begun drifting in and out of consciousness and displaying signs of shock. Oxygen was being administered through a therapy mask, resulting in a rise of SP02, however, this patient continued to deteriorate and over a short period of time her conscious state dropped and it became clear she could not support her own breathing. CPR was commenced by Jess and Paul. At this point, two Toll Rescue Helicopters arrived and were looking to land. Charlie, with some assistance from members of the public, cleared a space for the helicopters to land as additional emergency services began arriving. These included the local fire and rescue, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance and the SLS Sydney Duty Officers. One of the helicopters winched down their doctor and paramedic. Jess provided the medical crew with a handover and left the patient in their care. Paul then assisted Charlie with crowd control and landing the second Toll Helicopter in the designated area. Jess briefed the police and duty officers on the events.

Once the doctor and paramedic had stabilised the second patient, she was lifted onto a spinal board and placed on the back of Garie’s ATV for transport up to the grass area in front of the surf club where the helicopter had landed. The female patient was intubated and flown to Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick.

Patients three and four were taken to Sutherland Hospital to be checked over and were later discharged. Patient two was discharged from hospital three days later.

All girls are now very happy and healthy.

The presentation gathering was told Paul, Jess and Charlie worked for more than 40 minutes before additional resources arrived and, had it not been for their efforts, four people wouldn’t have made it home that night.

Lee Evans said, “Australia Day 2022 had every potential to be a horrific day. I commend Paul and Jess on their remarkable work to rescue the four girls under very difficult circumstances. Their courage and commitment to the community’s safety was paramount and I am sure the families are extremely grateful that thanks to Paul and Jess their girls are okay.”

Brad Taylor, president of Garie Surf Life Saving Club, said that it was lucky Jess and Paul were still at the club after their shift had concluded for the day.

“Volunteer surf life savers across NSW risk their lives to keep the community safe and I commend each and every one of them,” he said.

“This was a particularly difficult rescue due to the remoteness of Garie Beach and the communication constraints to contact other services. It’s great that Jess and Paul have been acknowledged for their efforts”.

Stgeorge Sutherland Shire Leader

This article originally appeared in the Stgeorge and Sutherland Shire Leader