Capsize tragedy prompts warning
IT’S A message that local volunteer rescuers have long been pushing: Take care when crossing local river bars.
Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue captain Garry Meredith repeated the call after he was involved in the rescue last week of two of four men who were thrown from their craft when it capsized entering the Ballina bar on the outgoing tide.
A third man was rescued by a passing jet ski rider and taken to North Wall where he was treated by paramedics.
Tragically the fourth man, 64-year-old Raymond Ensbey of Casino, died as a result of the incident.
A boat which was on the scene at the time of the incident transported Mr Ensbey to Lance Ferris Wharf at Fawcett Park, where efforts were made to resuscitate him by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew members.
Mr Meredith estimates the jet boat was on the scene, with two crew on board, within eight minutes of receiving the call-out.
He said boaties should always check with the Ballina Coast Guard about conditions on the bar, and take their advice, particularly when a crossing is not recommended.
The vessel that capsized last week was coming over the bar from the ocean on an outgoing tide, which already was low, with onshore winds, creating steep, treacherous waves.
Mr Meredith said if boaties were in any doubt about crossing the bar, they simply shouldn’t attempt it.
He said if a boatie was stuck outside on the low tide, they should ‘sit it out and wait until the top of the tide’.
“As soon as the tide starts running out the Ballina bar deteriorates,” he said.
While he said conditions at the time of the incident last week ‘were bad’, the Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue vessel was designed to handle them. It was powered by a 240hp diesel turbo-charged and super-charged Volvo Penta engine, he said.
The jet boat was bought second-hand from a Gold Coast surf club 20 years ago, and they are fundraising to buy a new vessel.
While the current boat was purpose-built, Mr Meredith said the volunteer crew also had to consider their own safety in poor conditions so they didn’t put their own lives at risk.
The bottom line, he said, was that crew safety on any vessel was the skipper’s responsibility.
The Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue was set up 39 years ago under the wing of the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club.
Mr Meredith, a member of the jet boat crew for about 25 years, said the first boat was bought because of a number of incidents on the bar.
It was a fibreglass jet boat that could be launched from Lighthouse Beach. Prior to that, surf row-boats were used for rescues on the bar.
Eight years ago, the jet boat became a stand-alone entity, and no longer comes under the wing of the surf club.
The rescue boat had 32 call-outs in the period from June last year to the end of May this year.
But the 15 active crew members – all trained lifesavers – also put in a total of an extra 220 volunteer patrol hours during the lifesaving season on top of the patrols they completed with their surf clubs.
During the lifesaving season, the jet boat patrols beaches from Evans Head through to Byron Bay, while the rescue service’s two jet skis are used to patrol beaches from South Ballina through to Broken Head.
And it is on call for emergencies.
It costs $40,000 a year to keep the jet boat on the water.
The Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue appreciates the support it receives from many local businesses.
To be involved, phone Mr Meredith on 0414 777 099.