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.

Media Release 3 May 2018 – Professional Ocean Lifeguards meet on the Coffs Coast

APOLA Media Release 3 May 2018
Professional Ocean Lifeguards meet on the Coffs Coast

Council Professional Ocean Lifeguards will gather in Coffs Harbour this Friday 4 May 2018 to attend the 22nd annual ocean lifeguard industry conference and workshop, Beach water safety programs and the role of knowledgeable bystanders.

“Given the spike in drowning numbers over the recent summer Professional ocean lifeguards will discuss not what makes for effective supervision and best peter millpractice in rescue, emergency care and community education, but also the possibilities for greater bystander involvement said National Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association President, Greg Hackfath, who is the Lifeguard Services Team leader at Coffs Harbour.

“Like previous conferences which have given rise to using modern medical approaches such defibrillation, the use of analgesic gases for pain management and suspected spinal trauma, there is always something new for professional lifeguards to consider when we gather annually to discuss ways of improving client management and thus reduce the risk of injury and drowning at our beaches, says Mr Hackfath.

“Educating the public to look out for each other is key. Especially getting locals, people who walk their dogs or surf or swim at our beaches regularly, to say something when they see someone walking into a potentially dangerous situation. A quiet word or a little bit of advice, maybe suggesting the person ‘go around the corner to a patrolled beach’ or to point out ‘rips are making it too dangerous for a swim today’ is local information that will help visitors to our beaches,” said Mr Hackfath.

The annual ocean lifeguard industry conference will also provide an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those ocean lifeguards gaining recognition through meritorious efforts when skill and quick thinking is the only difference between life and death.

APOLA NSW Vice President, Bruce ‘Hoppo’ Hopkins, says that the pressure on ocean lifeguards to manage beach visitors is greater than at any other time he can remember and that the popular Network 10 prime time television series Bondi Rescue (now in its 13th season and a 6 time Logie winner), has not just been a godsend for community beach safety education, but has also helped viewers gain an insight into the skill and teamwork required of today’s Council professional ocean lifeguards.

“The challenge for all Councils who control and manage our beaches is to continually look to improve all aspects of their Lifeguard operations to ensure that lifeguard programs always address community education, risk management and care for our beaches while juggling the competing demands of different recreational activity.  The continued population shift to coastal areas and growth of water sports such as jet skis, kite boards and commercial activity in learn-to-surf and stand-up-paddle have impacted on the traditional role of Council professional ocean lifeguards. Community expectations these days are for Councils to provide capable, highly trained lifeguards with a full skill-set in risk management, rescue and conflict resolution,” said Mr Hopkins.

Guest presenters will include, Dr Rob Brander, Associate Professor UNSW who will showcase Rip Current Heroes (an award winning Markland Media film) and author of the paper Improving tourist beach safety awareness: The benefits of watching Bondi Rescue, Brad Whittaker with Seabob, Damien Woods presenting on Publically accessible rescue tube systems and Warren Young PSM on the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Experience

Professional ocean lifeguards of course will remain on-duty year-round at our most popular beaches in the coastal regions of Newcastle, Wollongong and Coffs Harbour as well as numerous beaches in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Perth.

Media Photos/Interviews/Further Information
John Andrews 0408 855 267

Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association Inc. (APOLA)
ABN 40 537 467 685 Web
Mobile 0408 855 267

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