An RNLI lifeguard from from Mount Hawke has won a prestigious award by Surf Life Saving Australia for a rescue he carried out in ‘extreme conditions’ whilst working on the beaches there this winter.
Ben Sowter, 22-years-old, worked with a fellow lifeguard to save the lives of three surfers who were overwhelmed by the conditions.
Ben was on duty for Surf Life Saving Western Australia at Yallingup Beach, known for its notorious surf conditions, on January 10, with huge waves creating dangerous rip currents. Three surfers had paddled out from Yallingup lagoon and very suddenly found themselves out of their capabilities and pulled 500m offshore in a rip current.
Lifeguards Janek Ferrandi and Ben Sowter grabbed rescue boards and paddled out to the casualties. They each placed one surfer on their boards and guiding the third surfer, paddled towards the main break at Yallingup.
After 30 minutes of paddling making no headway, the lifeguards decided Janek would paddle to shore and call for further assistance from the rescue water craft on neighbouring Smith’s beach, while Ben maintained support of the surfers. Unfortunately Smith’s beach lifeguards were also conducting rescues and therefore were unable to assist, so Janek paddled out again to assist Ben with the surfers.
After a further 15 minutes paddling, Janek and Ben made the difficult decision to paddle the surfers through a shallow reef break which would put everybody at risk. One of the surfers caught a wave to shore and was assisted by a member of the public. After a further 10 minutes of watching and waiting for a lull in the waves, Janek and Ben returned the remaining surfers to shore with only minor injuries to the surfers and themselves.
Ben said: "The conditions that day were the biggest we'd had all season at Yallingup with waves breaking at four to five metres. There was a strong cross shore wind which made it virtually impossible to paddle the three people back towards the lagoon where the waves were smallest. After about 45 minutes of paddling we were not making any progress with them so had to make the choice and come in over a shallow reef.
"It was a tiring and long rescue but I felt comfortable throughout the whole ordeal and was pleased we came out with a good result at the end."
The rescue won their local Rescue of the Month for January and was entered for the national competition. They were subsequently awarded national Rescue of the Month and presented with their award at the Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving quarterly event in May at Parliament House in Canberra.
Ben is now back in Cornwall and will be back on duty as an RNLI lifeguard for the peak season from Saturday. His RNLI supervisor Martyn Ward said: "While away in Australia on unofficial exchange, Ben has honed his lifeguard skills, which has resulted in this award. He has exemplary water skills and is especially confident on a rescue board and inshore rescue boat. The conditions were extreme and we’re all extremely proud of Ben for his courage, bravery and skill in saving the three surfers’ lives."