A steady conga line of people walking to Penguin Island via the Mersey Point sandbar was the first of the warning bells for the team at Rockingham Wild Encounters on December 28 last year.
It is a day rescuers and bystanders will never forget.
Terry Howson, owner of Rockingham Wild Encounters, the company that runs ferries to and from the island, and his company director, Aaron Heath, described the events on that fateful afternoon as ‘‘really tough’’.
‘‘In the morning watching the stream of people walking out we knew it would be a tough afternoon with them all coming back,’’ Mr Heath said.
‘‘We rescued 30 people that day.’’
Despite the incredible efforts of the many local men involved in the huge rescue, two men, Indian migrant fathers Pavan Ghanasala and Praveen Kuma Shiva, died while trying to walk and swim the 750m back to the Shoalwater mainland.
Royal Life Saving Society WA honoured the team at Rockingham Wild Encounters and Department of Environment and Conservation rangers Murray Banks and Sean Emmett for their acts of bravery at a ceremony on November 26.
Mr Howson, on behalf of his company, accepted the Award of Merit, Mr Banks was awarded a Gold Cross andMrEmmett was given a Bravery Commendation.
‘‘It’s a bitter-sweet award,we did the best we could do on the day and rescued a lot of people, but at the end of the day two men died,’’ Mr Howson said.
The emergency call was made to the Department of Environment and Conservation after the ferry skipper Justin Downie, while rescuing a family who had been swept off the bar, noticed four more people in trouble.
Mr Heath said within five minutes, DEC members had launched a dinghy and were bringing people to shore.
On shore, Mr Heath and Mr Downie performed CPR on an unconscious swimmer while Mr Howson took the DEC dinghy out again and saved another nine people with the help of Mr Emmett.One of the patients was able to be revived andMr Heath and Mr Downie continued CPR on the other two patients without success.
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