TWO years ago on Father’s Day, an accident at sea changed the lives of six men from Evans Head.
Utah Chilcott was 18 at the time and said he had “never been so close to seeing someone die”.
The men’s efforts on that day were acknowledged by a bravery citation from the Governor-General.
When Utah, George Daley and Lachlan Metcalf headed out to fish past Snapper Rocks about 5km out of Evans Head, they saw an Esky floating in the water.
They steered towards it and saw the tip of tinnie poking out of the sea.
In the water were two men, clearly in distress. The younger man yelled out to them,
“Get my Dad, get my Dad!”
While Lachlan phoned emergency services, Utah dived into the water to rescue the 83-year-old man clinging to the side of the boat.
Marine Rescue watch officer Kira Hartland took the mayday.
“I received the call and responded that I was ordering an ambulance and getting help.”
“Another vessel nearby heard the radio and called out frantically to see if it was their friends who were in trouble. They turned around immediately and came straight over to the location of the incident. This was Shaun Sauer, the skipper of Slippery As. On board Shaun’s vessel were Hayden Sauer and Luke Sauer.”
Kira said she knew from that moment there were members of the public putting themselves at risk to save lives.
“I knew that there was a possibility that the boats responding could also become disabled, that the people on board those vessels, given the large swells, were also at risk of being overturned. I knew I was hearing courageous stuff but I didn’t then know at that time just how brave,” she said.
Utah wasn’t think about bravery. Instead, he was in the water trying to untangle the man who was slowly drowning and being dragged under, wrapped in the coil of an anchor rope with fishing line cutting his ankles and causing him to lose blood into the water.
George and Lachlan pulled from above, George with a broken arm just two weeks on and Utah in the water underneath pushing the barely conscious man up.
Shortly after, Lachlan reported they had a patient on board and he was, “not in a good way”.
Lachlan and George gave first aid to the man who was in severe respiratory distress, had hypothermia and intermittent loss of consciousness. The man had taken in so much water that it was pouring out of him as he lay in the recovery position on the boat.
“We had learned a bit of CPR in school,” Utah said.
The other person in the water was yet to be retrieved at this stage. He had the anchor rope wrapped tightly around his body more than 20 times and this and the motion of the sinking boat kept forcing him under the water, slowly drowning him as the boat was inching closer to the bottom.
Utah dived into the water again to cut more line off his legs.
Shaun, Hayden and Luke on board Slippery As tried to cut the man free while lying on their duckbill at the back of their vessel with Hayden holding the man up by the head. The last line was cut through and they were eventually able to pull him onto their boat and start back to Evans Head.
Kira said all the men were “absolute heroes”.
“I have no doubt in my mind that both men from the overturned boat would have died if the skippers and their crew haven't responded in the way they did,” she said.
“I can only imagine the courage it would have taken to attend, to dive in the water or hold the man while he was being dragged.”
Marine Rescue held a debrief session with the men and their families after the incident.
Two years on, there is a waver in Utah’s voice as he recalls the rescue.
“It rattled all of us, we were so young.”
“I stay out of the ocean and play hockey for Coraki now.”
He wonders what happened to the men they rescued.
Bill Bates from Evans Head Marine Rescue said the 83-year-old was in hospital for a week.
“That’s all we heard,” he said.
Ironically the same two men had been in a Father’s Day boating accident the year before.
The Governor-General has awarded a commendation for brave conduct to Utah Chilcott as well as a group bravery citation for him, Shaun, Luke and Hayden Sauer, George Daley and Lachlan Metcalf.