MEMORY LANE: Dramatic mass rescue at Ballina beach

KEEPING SWIMMERS SAFE: Surf lifesaving beltmen were a regular sight on Australian beaches and were credited with helping to save lives on Ballina Beach in 1968.
KEEPING SWIMMERS SAFE: Surf lifesaving beltmen were a regular sight on Australian beaches and were credited with helping to save lives on Ballina Beach in 1968. Copyright unkown

IT WAS 50 years ago this week that a dramatic emergency unfolded at Ballina Beach when 28 swimmers were swept 300 to 400 yards out to sea.

It was considered the most dramatic rescue in the history of the beach as surf club members worked against the clock to save everyone.

It was January 1, 1968 and more than 3,000 people watched 42 club members make the mass recovery in 45 minutes.

Ballina Surf Club president of the day, Elton Stone said it was fortunate that most of the club's top swimmers were on the beach when a rip suddenly developed, causing 40 surfers to get caught and 28 of them needing to be rescued.

Four club members were already in the water - Bill Onslow, Bob Gates, Jack Trevan and Ian Byrne - and they supported and encouraging those caught in the rip while beltmen and a boat crew began the haul to safety.

According to the report by the Northern Star, at the height of the operation, four reels were operating for 16 belt rescues and the four surf club members brought people in without the belts.

The only person hospitalised that day was club member Bill Onslow, 19 who struggled to the beach and collapsed after the ordeal.

A boat crew had been training behind the break when the event occurred and they managed to drag eight people from the surf, taking them further out until rescues on the beach had completed.

With an overloaded boat, however, they were unable to get through the surf safely, so had to go further south, away from the big waves, to be assisted by the beltmen there.

First hand account

Richard Crandon, a life saver, was there on the day and remembers how the drama all unfolded.

"It was a beautiful big surf and we had the full patrol there that day," he said.

"There were lots of kids on the surfer planes (blow up mats) that we hired out, in the water.

"A rip formed right in front of the surf club, it was chaos but it was handled very well."

Mr Crandon said he remembers the screaming from children as they gathered as many as possible to get them back into shore.

"This was the day before jet-skis and power boats," he said.

"We had to swim and by the time we got the surf boat to them, people were so far out.

"By the end of it we were absolutely buggared."

Mr Crandon remembers Mr Stone coordinating everyone on the beach with the use of a megaphone.

He is also thankful for his surf flippers which helped him in the water.

One bystander said if there hadn't been a patrol on the beach that day, there would definitely have been a considerable loss of life.


'28 Pulled from surf in dramatic mass rescue at Ballina beach', The Northern Star, Tuesday, January 2, 1968. Page 2.

Topics:  ballina beach beltmen down memory lane dramatic surf rescue northern star history

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