The memory a rescue performed almost 20 years ago might have helped save the life of five people in the early hours of last Monday morning.
At about 1am a marine rescue vessel set out to help a boat in difficulty attempting to cross the Ballina bar. Conditions were rough with two to three metre waves and amidst a tangle of ropes and the outgoing tide, both vessels were swept along huge coast and the rescue vessel overturned in the ocean.
Mark Puglisi, Brad Heard and Garry Meredith, volunteers with the Ballina Jetboat Rescue Service, were just three of a large contingent of north coast emergency and rescue service staff who were roused in the hours before dawn to bring the crew of both vessels to safety.
Mr Puglisi was the skipper of the jetboat on Monday, his service to the jetboat crew the direct result of the heroics he both performed and witnessed as a teenager in similar circumstances.
Many years ago he was in a boat with his dad in rough weather conditions when things went awry.
‘I come from a large fishing family’, says Mark. ‘We operate trawlers on the east coast. When I was 17, I was working for my dad. It was a rugged night and he got smashed in the head by a big lump of timber and he was knocked over the side unconscious.’
Mark says that he dove into the ocean to save his dad.
‘I swam over to him with the life ring. I grabbed him out of the water and swam him back and dragged him onto the trawler.’ Mark’s actions saw him awarded the distinction of a Royal Humane Society bravery award and the Young Citizen of the Year in Ballina.
But it was the jetboat rescue service on the night that made the biggest impression on Mark.
‘On the night, dad wouldn’t have survived if the jetboat hadn’t come out with an ambulance officer on it’, says Mark. ‘He got on board with us and was able to stabilise dad before we were able to bring him in. It was what happened then that got me interested in jetboat rescue.’
Coincidentally, team member Garry Meredith who was assisting from the beach last Monday, was on the jet boat the night all those years ago when Mark’s dad needed help.
Fast forward to 3am last Monday morning an Mark, Brad and another member of the jetboat service managed to rescue the two crew from the original vessel and the crew from the marine rescue vessel. Conditions on the night made it near impossible in the dark to find a path through the bar, so Mark made the decision to land on the beach as one of the older men from the rescue was in need of immediate medical attention, something he would not have survived to receive without the efforts of all the rescue teams and the service of the jetboat. The gentlemen in question was still in hospital yesterday recovering from his ordeal.
Like many local rescue services, the Ballina Jetboat Rescue Service is run by volunteers and equipped by the generosity of the community. Without the help of donations from the public, the service couldn’t survive. The jetboat crew are constantly renewing and upgrading equipment and are currently looking for funds for a jet ski and an upgrade of safety gear.
Anyone interested can contact the service via PO Box 808 Ballina.