Dramatic Surfski Rescue in Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, 02 December 2009 01:22 | Written by 
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Dramatic Surfski Rescue in Sydney, Australia
[Editor: Here's a story just in from Sydney, Australia, that illustrates just how important it can be to carry a communications device when paddling offshore.  Well done to Dale Jackson and Steve Randall for having a mobile phone that they could summon help with when they got into trouble.]

From the Sydney Morning Herald, www.smh.com.au

A mobile phone in a waterproof bag may have saved the life of Sydneysider Steven Randall, whose surf ski snapped in four-metre waves off the northern beaches last night.

Mr Randall, 38, was winched to safety, suffering hypothermia, by a rescue helicopter about one kilometre off Long Reef at Colloroy after a 30-minute paddle from Manly Beach turned into a two-hour ordeal in pounding surf.

The South-African born fire safety worker, a lifeguard and experienced surf ski paddler, said his friend, Dale Jackson, used a mobile phone to call emergency services after the pair failed to make it back to shore with one functioning ski between them.

"Dale tried to tie the skis together and paddle me in but we weren't going anywhere," Mr Randall said.

"It was getting dark and I was starting to get cold."

The pair's ordeal began when they attempted to paddle in past Long Reef to Fisherman's Beach on imposing, but not impossible, swell.

"It was nothing we couldn't handle, we were cruising along ... and we got to Fisherman's Point and we were watching the swells breaking in front of us," Mr Randall said.

He and Mr Jackson, also an accomplished paddler, decided to head north and go wide around the waves, which were breaking close to the reef, instead of trying to head into shore hugging the headland.

But, just as the pair turned around, a set of waves rolled through, knocking both of them off their skis.

"I was further back and closer to the reef than Dale and another wave came and he managed to get over that swell but I didn't make it," Mr Randall said.

Four metres of wild water broke over the 38-year-old, splitting his surf ski along its seam.

Mr Randall tried to swim in, clinging to the ski, but a change in wind direction made it impossible.

By this time, the sun was dipping low in the west and the pair found themselves in a difficult situation.

"It was dark and we couldn't tell the distance to the beach or if we were getting closer [to shore] or being washed further out," he said.

But they were prepared. Along with rash vests and leg leashes, Mr Jackson, 30, had stuffed his mobile phone into a waterproof bag.

Mr Jackson called triple-0 but lost the connection after a short while.

He tried again and the operator alerted a police helicopter, before Mr Jackson spotted a Westpac Rescue chopper on its way back to Palm Beach.

The helicopter was asked to turn back but huge seas and the cover of darkness meant it took three spotlighted scans of the area to find the paddlers.

Mr Randall, by now hypothermic, was winched to safety and treated onshore.

Mr Jackson, 30, paddled around the waves and made it in by 8.45pm, two hours and 15 minutes after they paddled out from Manly.

"I really do want to thank emergency services for their assistance from the control area, they were really good with hanging with me and obviously communicating with a helicopter on a different frequency," Mr Jackson said.

"And the police and the ambulance services that came out at fisherman's to treat Steve, they were wonderful."

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