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Far South Coast Surf Lifesavers reflect on Port Campbell tragedy

Ian Campbell 23 April 2019
30 members of Bermagui SLSC as well as Marine Rescue Bermagui paused at 12:30 pm yesterday for a minute of silence in honour of their fellow lifesavers. Photo: Bermagui SLSC Facbook.

30 members of Bermagui SLSC, as well as Marine Rescue Bermagui, paused at 12:30 pm yesterday to honour their fellow lifesavers. Photo: Bermagui SLSC Facebook.

Lifesavers along the Far South Coast are mourning the loss of Ross and Andrew Powell at the weekend.

The 71-year-old and 32-year-old father and son died after their rescue boat flipped while responding to a call for help from a 30-year-old overseas visitor in waters near the Twelve Apostles, on Victoria’s west coast on Easter Sunday.

Police say the six-meter rigid-hull rescue boat from the Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club was overwhelmed in heavy surf, throwing the three volunteer rescuers on board into the water.

The third lifesaver from Port Campbell was pulled from the water by an emergency helicopter with serious injuries, the man who sparked the rescue was taken to hospital in a stable condition after also being winched to safety.

Clubs from Batemans Bay to Pambula held a minutes silence and lowered the Australian flag to half mast for Powell’s at 12:30 pm yesterday, a show of respect and remembrance but also an acknowledgment of the potential for a similar tragedy in their own ranks.

Broulee’s Gary Pettigrove is a 45 year veteran of the Surf Life Saving movement, his first 26 years was as a member of the Torquay SLSC where he “had many a battle” in surf boats against Ross Powell and watched Andrew grow up.

“Something freak has happened and it’s just a tragedy for everyone,” Gary says.

“I just feel so sorry for Port Campbell, the community and for Ross, Andrew, and their family.”

Gary who has long been a mentor, coach, and sweep for the Canberra based Broulee Capitals and Mixed Grill Surf Boat crews says the minutes’ silence yesterday was a great way to bring people together and support each other.

“Surf Life Saving is a family, there are 314 clubs around Australia, its just amazing that every weekend, every Easter, every Christmas, these people put their lives on the line to keep people safe.”

Andrew Edmunds, Director of Members Services with Far South Coast Surf Life Saving was on patrol for three of the four days of Easter.

“It’s incredibly sad, every patrolling surf lifesaver is impacted by this because it brings home the risks involved with what we do,” Andrew says.

“We all just have huge admiration and respect for what those three people did.

“It’s a hazardous environment and this reinforces the time and work we put into training and keeping our skills up.

“We are a 24 hour a day – 7 day a week service, the risks are incredibly real, something like this could happen and does happen any day of the week.”

With all seven Far South Coast clubs wrapping up their season this weekend, Gary has some words of wisdom and leadership for local volunteers who might have been rattled by the deaths of Ross and Andrew Powell.

“There is no shame for anyone that stands back and says I just can’t do that, that situation is beyond me,” he says.

“People put their lives on the line without thinking, they just do it, [but you always have a choice] we need our young lifesavers to know that.”

As the famous red and yellow flags come down this weekend, Eurobodalla and Bega Valley communities are expected to take part in the fundraising effort ahead for the Powell family.

“Year in and year out our members go above and beyond, and volunteers along the Far South Coast can be very proud of their service this season,” Andrew says.

“It’s something that just happens, but it’s important to stop and take stock and be thankful for the service these people provide.”

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