It was a day of mourning for lifesavers around the state, the country, and the world, as messages of condolence came from all areas, including lifesaving organisations as far away as South Africa, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, as tragedy marred the final weekend of the 2018/19 lifesaving patrol season.
The outpouring of grief was in response to the devastating events at Port Campbell yesterday, where two surf life savers lost their lives at sea during a rescue operation.
“To read so many beautiful messages of support has touched our hearts and we thank you,” said Scott McKenzie, Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club president. “We know you’re all feeling the loss with us, and it gives us – and the families involved – strength.”
Victorian lifesaving patrollers observed one minute’s silence at 12.30pm, with many patrollers wearing black arm bands for the day.
Victorian clubs from as far east as Surf Life Saving Lakes Entrance to as far west as Portland Surf Life Saving Club, as well as all NSW Surf Life Saving Clubs, and many others, including over 2,000 kilometres away at Alma Bay on Magnetic Island and at Rainbow Bay and North Burleigh in Queensland, all joined together in silence to pay their respects.
Emergency services personnel at the State Control Centre and even those competing on the last day of the Australian Dragon Boat Championships in Canberra shared the minute in silence.
And at Port Campbell, fellow lifesavers from nearby Warrnambool SLSC took up patrol duties for the club as they took time to come to terms with the devastating news.
It was a moment to reflect upon the season and as a mark of respect to the three brave lifesavers who undertook the rescue mission, two losing their lives, and another still recovering in hospital.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” said Surf Life Saving Lakes Entrance president David Richardson. “It really hit home and we send our condolences to the Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club and the Powell family and friends on such a tragic loss.”
“Behind every lifesaver is a family who gives them the time to patrol and train, so they can give back to the community,” said Portland Surf Life Saving Club president Kym Maybery. “Our thoughts and condolences are with the families and our fellow lifesavers at Port Campbell.”
Melbourne Bayside Life Saving Clubs also took part, including Hampton Life Saving Club, whose president Yvette Costello commented: “We witness acts of bravery in lifesaving every day, and we pay our respects to emergency services personnel who put themselves on the line, often as volunteers, to serve their communities. We work as one, so all feel the loss deeply.”
The sad end to the summer lifesaving season takes the Victorian drowning toll to 28 drowning deaths since the 1st December 2018 (compared with 23 the previous summer season), and a rolling total of 47 drowning deaths for the year to date (from 1st July 2018), which is 10 more than the five-year average (1 July 2013 – 21 April 2019).
Last year (1st July 2017 – 30th June 2018) saw 40 drowning deaths during the entire year, so Victoria already has seven more drowning deaths than the previous year, with over two months left.
“There is still more work to be done to lower the drowning toll in Victoria,” said LSV President and volunteer member Paul James. “The tragic loss of two of our best shows the ferocity of the ocean environment, even to experienced sea-goers.”
This season, 523 rescues were performed, 2,956 first aid applications and 133,529 preventive actions were taken by lifesavers and lifeguards spread across the state.
“It’s been an extremely busy time at our beaches this season, with a sad end,” said Mr James. “We thank each and every one of our volunteer lifesavers, lifeguards and behind-the-scenes club members and lifesaving personnel for their devotion to our drowning prevention mission.”