Surfer's harrowing rescue of unconscious men trapped underwater: 'Carnage'

·4-min read

A surfer who was one of the first on the scene of a fatal boat accident last weekend has detailed the “carnage” and “confusion” as locals scrambled to save the lives of four unconscious men.

At around 10.20am on Sunday, Sean Brokman, 32, from Helensburgh, NSW, had just caught his first wave at Waniora Point in Bulli and was paddling back out into the ocean when he and fellow surfers spotted a capsized boat just 20 metres ahead.

Mr Brokman told Yahoo News Australia he recognised how bad the situation was when he saw the boat was in a breaker zone and at risk of smashing into a nearby reef.

“A few men were holding onto the boat without life jackets and they were obviously in serious trouble,” the former surf life saver said.

Mr Brokman said a group of roughly five or more surfers paddled over, and one of the three men holding onto the boat, who didn’t speak English, began banging on the hull to communicate to them that there were people stuck inside.

Sean Brokman is seen with his partner Rebecca Davis. Source: Supplied
Sean Brokman had just caught his first wave when he spotted the capsized boat and rushed to help. Source: Supplied

All of the surfers quickly abandoned their boards and a few began diving under the water to confirm four more men were trapped under the boat.

“It was such a dangerous position. If we had been hit by a wave we could have so easily been caught under there ourselves,” Mr Brokman said.

The 32-year-old said the first time he dove under the water he didn’t have enough air so he returned to the surface to compose himself before heading back down.

“The visibility was poor because of all the fuel and debris in the water but by some miracle I could see an air pocket in the bow of the boat with some legs, so I just went up and plucked that guy out,” he said, adding the unconscious man was “full of water” and sunk immediately after being pulled out.

“I somehow managed to grab him and kick our way to the surface — I don’t know how.”

Mr Brokman said he wrangled the man into the rescue position and tread water as he held him up.

Two lifeguards soon arrived on a jet-ski. One of the life savers jumped into the water, giving Mr Brokman space to climb onto the back with the unconscious man and use his arms to hold him in place. 

Sean is seen at the scene after rescuing one of the men with the help of other surfers and emergency personnel. Source: Seven News
Mr Brokman at the scene after rescuing one of the men with the help of other surfers and emergency personnel. Source: Seven News

“He looked dead. He was lifeless since the moment I touched him and unresponsive the whole time,” the 32-year-old told Yahoo News Australia.

With one of the lifeguards driving the jet-ski, Mr Brokman and the unconscious man travelled the 100 metres back to shore. The turbulent water caused him and the boating victim to fall off the jet-ski “about 70 metres in”.

“I couldn’t lift him up because I was so exhausted, so another surfer helped pull him up and we made it all the way in,” Mr Brokman said, adding he was stunned when he saw four CPR stations set up on the beach.

Miraculous effort to save three boaties

In the meantime, another surfer named Sebastian James was able to dive under the capsized boat and remove the remaining three trapped men with the help of other surfers, lifesavers and rescue personnel.

Mr Brokman said watching all four unconscious men being treated on the shore with the help of lifesavers and locals ,and emergency personnel was “the most miraculous thing” he’s ever seen.

“It was amazing — a real community effort.”

Helicopter photo of the capsized boat.
Seven people were on the boat when it capsized 100 metres from shore. Source: ABC News

Three of the boating victims, who had gone into cardiac arrest, were rushed to multiple hospitals in critical condition, but a fourth man, 37, couldn’t be saved and died at the scene, ABC reports.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the respective hospitals for an update on the survivors’ conditions.

The three men who had been clinging to the top of the boat were picked up by lifesavers and removed from the situation and taken safely to shore. 

Mr Brokman, who is expecting his first child with his partner, praised everyone who was involved in the massive rescue mission, but said it had “really shaken him up”.

“I thought they were going to die for sure. The scene was just carnage,” he said.

“We could have all been cleaned up by the boat and the waves.”

Sean is seen with his partner Rebecca Davis. Source: Supplied
Mr Brokman, who is expecting his first child with his partner, praised everyone who was involved in the massive rescue mission. Source: Supplied

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