Three people were hospitalised and two boats – including the Ballina Marine Rescue boat – have disappeared without trace following a dramatic rescue on high seas at the Richmond River bar in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The other missing boat, a 12 metre motor cruiser, got into trouble at the bar while attempting to enter the Richmond River and sent out a distress signal at approximately 12.30am Monday.
The signal was responded to by Marine Rescue, which sent out its rescue boat in two to three metre swells. But the rescue boat itself got into trouble while attempting to attach a tow rope to the motor cruiser and flipped over, throwing three rescuers and two of the cruiser’s crew into the water.
The Ballina Marine Rescue jet boat went out to rescue all five, who by this time were floating about 2km out to sea, holding onto the overturned vessel. One of them, who could not initially be found, had been floating in an air pocket under the boat.
The Westpac Life Saver Rescue helicopter was called but was unable to winch the men to safety owing to rough seas.
Jet boat skipper Mark Puglisi tried to find another way to get the passengers, some of whom were by now suffering from hypothermia, to safety.
With the Richmond bar and the Evans Head bar both looking too treacherous, Mr Puglisi finally decided to run the jet boat ashore at Shelly Beach where ambulance crews had been organised to stand by.