A very relieved Simon Blanch (centre) of England thanks one of his rescuers Gretchen Glaub of the USA while his other rescuer Ian Astley (front) of Belongil catches his breath at Belongil Beach.
A very relieved Simon Blanch (centre) of England thanks one of his rescuers Gretchen Glaub of the USA while his other rescuer Ian Astley (front) of Belongil catches his breath at Belongil Beach. Norhtern Rivers

Heroes rescue man from deadly rip

A SWIM in the wild waters of Byron Bay yesterday nearly killed Simon Blanch - and the first person to try and save him.

Mr Blanch, an English national living in Brisbane, went for a swim at Belongil Beach yesterday morning, but got into trouble when he was caught in a rip.

Luckily for him, he was not the only person sampling the water on the near-deserted stretch of beach. US tourist Gretchen Glaub had just had a dip and was on the beach watching the Englishman when he got into trouble.

“There were two breaks and I noticed he was on the farthest break and started screaming for help,” Ms Glaub, 33, said.

Ms Glaub told another beach-goer she was going to try and help the 31-year-old surveyor. However, she feared she would not have the strength to bring him in. She was right.

“I went out to him and tried to calm him down and tried to keep him above water until we could get more help,” she said.

A local resident alerted surfer Ian Astley, who lives at and manages the Belongil holiday rental, Blue Water on the Beach.

“I had a look and got my longboard and paddled out. By the time I got there they were both struggling,” Mr Astley said.

“If I had not got there when I did he would have drowned, and he's such a big bloke he probably would have taken her down as well. They were a long way out, it would have been about 200 metres, and it was a heavy chop, very unpredictable with an extremely heavy rip. There always is just there. I was struggling too. I could not lay on the board and paddle. I got him on the board, told her to hold on to the back. I got one arm around him because he was wobbly on the board and paddled in with one hand doing breaststroke.”

Mr Astley said the rescue took about half an hour. He was already back home by the time lifeguards arrived on the unpatrolled beach.

He said that the pair, who were already tired and caught in rough conditions, would not have survived long enough to be rescued by the lifeguards.

“I already had my wetsuit off before the lifeguards got there. They would have been drowned for sure, without a doubt,” he said.

The rescue comes only weeks ahead of the official start of volunteer surf patrols at Byron Bay.

Northern NSW Lifeguard co- ordinator Stephen Leahy said a 24-hour callout system was in place at Byron, but the response time depended on where the lifeguards came from. Yesterday they had to come from Ballina. An inflatable rescue boat and jet ski were launched from Byron Bay, but lifeguards had to be called from their jobs resulting in delays.

“At this point in time there are no lifeguard patrols and the council has called for tenders,” he said.

“We appreciate the work undertaken by the man with the board and it is important to realise the conditions at the moment are dangerous.”



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