Volunteers from Marine Rescue Port Stephens risked their lives in a desperate rescue operation during which their rescue vessel was knocked flat by a series of eight metre waves last night.
The seven-member crew of Port Stephens 40 (Danial Thain) battled five to eight-metre seas and 40-50 knot winds to reach a 15.8 metre sailboat being blown north-west up the coastline at a rapid pace after losing its steerage and sails.
Marine Rescue NSW volunteers from Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie and Lemon Tree Passage were on the water from early yesterday morning assisting boaters in trouble in the wild winds, heavy rainfall and turbulent seas along the Hunter and Mid North Coasts.
A search continued overnight for a sailor washed overboard from a yacht 10km north of Broughton Island in one of three Mayday operations in the region yesterday.
Marine Rescue Port Stephens Unit Commander Tony O’Donnell said the unit had been tasked by the NSW Police Marine Area Command to assist the disabled yacht about 7.30pm, with the PS 40 crew immediately departing the unit’s base in the Arun class rescue vessel.
Mr O’Donnell said after a long chase north, the rescue crew had caught up to the racing yacht, which had been blown up the coast at a rapid 7-8 knots, as it reached a beach just south of Seal Rocks.
“Our crew was about to pass a tow line to the yacht when it hit the breakers and ended up on the beach. Its crew abandoned ship and made it to shore,” he said. “Just as that happened, an eight metre wave hit the Danial Thain and rolled it on its side. It was hit another two times and knocked flat so that the crew on the bridge were under water.
“Everyone had lifelines on, securing them to the vessel. We could have lost people, it was that serious. Two members sustained injuries: one dislocated a shoulder and the youngest member of the crew has a laceration above his eye.”
The yacht’s five crew members were retrieved from the beach by police, with PS 40 making its way back down the coastline to its base, arriving about 6.30am.
Marine Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner Dean Storey praised the enormous skill and courage of PS 40 skipper Ron Lighton, engineer Mike Smith, navigator Richard Pizzuto and crew members Laurie Nolan, Tom Miller, Paul Sullivan and Ian Drummond.
“The conditions yesterday were atrocious in the region. These crew members have put the safety of others ahead of their own to fulfil our mission of saving lives on the water,“ he said. “The vessel crew was ably supported by the unit’s radio operators on duty, Mike Grover, Colin Cahill, John Vassallo and Peter Baldwin.
“All these volunteers, along with the members of our other units who were out in yesterday’s terrible weather, deserve our sincere thanks and praise for their efforts.”
Deputy Commissioner Storey said four of the crew members also had been part of the PS 40 crew awarded the 2015 Australian Search and Rescue Award for their bravery and seamanship during a rescue operation to save two people from a yacht in cyclonic conditions during the East Coast Low storms last April.
Administration Officer, Marine Rescue Port Stephens