Lucky break for backpackers

TWO French backpackers rescued from rough seas at Shelly Beach, Ballina on Sunday were spotted only by chance and rescued by surf lifesavers who were only there to relocate equipment.

Following the end of the 2012 summer surf patrol season on Anzac Day just under two weeks ago, the surf life savers would normally not have been on the beach but were there in force on Sunday.

Ballina Shire Council had asked the club members to move their gear out of shipping containers they had been using at Lighthouse Beach to Shelly Beach on the other side of Ballina Head, so that construction work can begin on the planned new clubhouse given development approval on April 27.

Club secretary Sharon Balkin said the team had brought most of the equipment to the old Shelly Beach clubhouse when the backpackers, who later gave their names as Alex and Julia, were spotted struggling in the water just after 11am.

Any earlier the team would have still been at Lighthouse Beach.

"We got all our gear out of the containers back over to Shelly Beach to patrol there next season," Mrs Balkin said.

"One of our nippers' dads (Mark Thomson) was up on the balcony and said to us there seemed to be people in difficulty.

"We ran down onto the beach. President Kris Beavis, my husband (Rod) and others grabbed the IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat). Rod had his work shorts and work boots on.

"Isabella Jones and Joe Keane headed out on rescue boards.

"About 15 people were involved. It was a big team effort."

Fortunately Mrs Balkin said the team had just brought the IRB from Lighthouse beach and had it on a trailer at the top of the beach ramp.

Club president Kris Beavis said the two "were extremely lucky we happened to be down here with rescue and lifesaving equipment".

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