Victorian tourists saved from rip at Merimbula

Keen surfer, Henry Jones, of Greigs Flat has been credited by local police with saving “one, if not more lives” on Monday, April 7 at about 10.10am when three Victorian visitors were caught in a rip off Main Beach, Merimbula.

Normally Henry heads straight for the area of Main Beach closest to the bar before heading out to surf but on Monday, unusually, he parked at Ford Park and went to the platform to check out the surf. What he saw concerned him.

“I could see a rip running and there were a lot of holiday makers around. I saw a couple on boogie boards and thought they could get caught.”

The next thing he knew, there were three people in trouble, a 13-year-old girl, a 17-year-old boy and their father.

Henry immediately ran back to his vehicle. “Fortunately I had a big surf board with me, a big Malibu, which was perfect for a rescue,” he said.

He ran down the beach by which time the girl was managing to get in although Henry said she was very shaken. However the boy and his father were still in the water and in trouble.

Henry said: “I reached the boy and put him on the board and we went to a sand bank where I landed him and he could walk back in. I could hear his father calling for help but I couldn’t see him.”

By this time the father had been taken out by the rip past the break.

“When I reached him he was very exhausted and I pulled him onto the board and told him to relax.”

Henry explained that they would have to paddle in to the shore but just as they got close a big wave smashed into the board washing the board away from them. Fortunately by this time they were close enough to be able to walk in but Henry said that the man was very exhausted. “He was gasping for breath and had no strength left.”

Police said that the man required treatment for exhaustion by ambulance officers. 

By this time the police had arrived at the beach and Henry simply went home to “have a coffee and a warm up”.

Sergeant Cliff Scarlett of Merimbula Police said: “Two children aged 17 and 13 were caught in a rip and when their father entered the water to rescue them he too found the rip too strong. They were about 100 metres offshore in difficult conditions when Henry Jones entered the water with his surf board. Mr Jones first returned the 13-year-old girl to safety before returning to water to save the 17-year-old boy.  After returning the boy to calmer waters he again returned to the water this time to save the father.  After locating the male some 200 metres offshore Mr Jones commenced returning him to safety.  About half way back the pair was swamped by a large wave where they lost the surf board.  Mr Jones still managed to get the man closer to shore where he was assisted by Tura Beach man, David Graham in bringing the male to shore.  The actions of Mr Jones saved one if not more lives today.”  

Later the same day Henry said he saw another man on a board in a rip and had to yell out to warn him.

Henry is concerned for visitors to the area and feels that there is a strong case for better signage around some of the most popular beaches.

“We have Victorian school holidays, warm water, lots of novice swimmers with their boogie boards and coolite floaty boards but sometimes they don’t know what a rip current looks like, or what to do when they get caught in one.

Also at this time of the year there are quite regular large swells that generate strong rips just waiting to sweep uneducated swimmers out to sea, where they try to swim or paddle against the rip, get exhausted, and find themselves in great danger with no lifesavers ready to rush out and save them,” Henry said.

“I realise that council is strapped for cash and cannot afford to patrol the beaches right through the autumn surfing season but surely we need to spend a reasonably small amount of money to put up some information signs that show a photo of a rip so that a person can see what they look like and contain a bit of advice on how to behave wisely if they get caught in a rip current,” Henry said.

The Royal Lifesaving Association provides the following advice:

"Rips are fast-flowing currents where water flows back out to sea. Recognising a rip is the first step in being able to avoid being caught in one. Look for discoloured water, formed from sand being stirred up from the bottom; foam on the surface that extends beyond the breaking waves, a ripple appearance when the water around is generally calm, floating debris with the current and waves breaking larger and further out on both sides of the rip.

Don’t panic if you get caught in a rip, but try and remain calm. If you are a poor swimmer then you should go with the rip, stay afloat and signal to lifesavers or other beach users and wait to be rescued. If you are a weak or tired swimmer, swim parallel to the shore and swim in when conditions allow. If you are a strong swimmer, swim parallel to the shore or angle your body diagonally across the current, returning to the shore through the breaking waves."

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