Media Release 6 June 2019

Local Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh pays tribute to the outstanding service of Coffs Harbour City Council’s lifeguard team

Coffs Harbour newly elected Local MP Gurmesh Singh has paid tribute to Hugo Craigan, Alex Swadling and Lifeguard Service Team Leader Greg Hackfath for their efforts on that difficult after-hours mid-December 2019 day at Moonee Beach.

Gurmesh presented his Private Members Statement to Parliament on Tuesday 4 June 2019.

Hansard link:

The FB page “Gurmesh Singh – MP” has the above link, plus video of the speech.


Mr GURMESH SINGH (Coffs Harbour) (19:56): I pay tribute to the outstanding service of Coffs Harbour City Council’s lifeguard team. Three of them—Hugo Craigan, Alex Swadling and Lifeguard Service Team Leader Greg Hackfath—are recipients of the Meritorious Award, bestowed for dangerous rescue, bravery and/or outstanding application of lifesaving rescue and first-aid skills. The awards were announced at the recent 2019 Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association’s annual industry conference.

One week before Christmas last year the trio leapt into action, along with other first responders, as a dire emergency unfolded at Moonee Creek. The event was recorded as part of the Meritorious Award nomination prepared by Greg Hackfath for his two colleagues. Lifeguards Greg Hackfath, Hugo Craigan and Alex Swadling responded to a call for assistance at 6.15 p.m. on Monday 18 December 2018 for two missing persons swept out to sea at Moonee Creek, 10 kilometres north of Coffs Harbour. They responded without question and made their way to the site of the reported incident, where they received further information that six people had been swept out of the creek mouth and all were missing. Hugo and Alex proceeded immediately into some pretty challenging ocean conditions while Greg obtained further details from the police officer in charge on the scene.

With a 1.5 metre north-east swell, 20-knot north-easterly winds and floodwaters from Moonee Creek on an outgoing tide, it was a pretty heavy situation and their first thoughts were that they would be recovering six bodies. Thankfully, upon their arrival they found that two of the teenagers could be assisted from the water and were in good health. However, that still left four people to rescue. After getting additional information and ferrying a police officer across the creek so that he could access the headland, Greg entered the creek mouth following Hugo and Alex. After negotiating the break, Greg saw that Hugo was 500 to 700 metres out to sea in the current from the outgoing creek. He had plucked the remaining teenage girl from the water and was returning her to the beach alive. Greg continued out to where Hugo had rescued the girl while Alex searched approximately 500 metres to the south.

At this stage, about 500 metres out from the beach, Greg found one of the missing persons and placed him on his board, but he was unresponsive. Greg headed toward the shore and was approximately 100 metres from the beach when Hugo turned up on his way back out. Hugo offered to help Greg and they swapped boards. Greg returned back out to sea to find Alex, who had been conducting an intensive search for the last 30 minutes for the remaining person, some 700 metres out to sea. In the meantime Hugo paddled the missing person whom Greg had found to shore. Hugo kept hold of his patient, got him to the beach, and found another of the missing persons in the surf zone closer to shore. He was also unresponsive.

Alex and Greg continued to search for another 30 to 40 minutes during which time the Westpac Rescue Helicopter had begun searching. Eventually they both returned to the beach where Hugo was assisting in CPR efforts. Greg then relieved Hugo doing CPR whilst Alex assisted the police and State Emergency Service [SES] with recovery. Greg, Hugo and one of the bystanders continued CPR for approximately 40 minutes on one of the victims before both males who had been retrieved were, unfortunately, pronounced dead. They then spoke briefly with police, ambulance and SES personnel before leaving the scene.

To quote Greg directly from the nomination, “I believe that Hugo and Alex deserve an award. Their commitment to the role is exceptional. They showed professionalism beyond their years and their actions speak for themselves. Through selfless acts, empathy, their skills plus their knowledge they pass onto others. They work together effortlessly and achieve outcomes seemingly without trying, yet maintain all that we strive for in this job. This can be a challenging role at times, and dealing with death and injury can take its toll. However, these two do it without question, help each other and the others in our team and make my life easier by the way they operate.”

As a sad footnote, three days later the remaining deceased person was found at Point Plomer, near Port Macquarie, some 124 kilometres away.

I commend the bravery of these three individuals and thank them for their work to keep our beaches safe.