The most serious rescue at Bondi in 70 years
JUST two months after two foreigners got into trouble swimming at Bondi Beach, leaving one man drowned, and a woman critically injured, the lifeguards at Bondi Rescue are still struggling.
And emotions are never far from the surface. "As much as we try and try, sometimes we just can't be there for everybody," says Bondi lifeguard veteran Rod "Kerrbox" Kerr.
The fact the words come from a hardened surf lifeguard veteran, grim-faced, and fighting back tears, are a sign of the emotion and power of the episode of Bondi Rescue that airs on Anzac Day.
The episode sees those involved speak for the first time about what's been described as the most serious rescue on the beach in 70 years.
The cameras, and rescuers, recount the bitter struggle to get two unconscious Norwegian tourists out of the water, and the desperate efforts to revive them on the sand.
It was just after 4.30pm that day when Jethro James, on duty in the tower, spotted trouble in Bondi's infamous "Backpackers" rip, and sent his colleagues into the water.
First in was Trent "Singlets" Falson, followed rapidly by Corey Oliver.
"I just saw this cluster of people right out the back of backpackers where the surfers were and it didn't look good at all," Falson tells Bondi Rescue.
"I couldn't see the patients on the way out. And then I remember coming over the last wave and what I saw next absolutely shocked me to the core."
Back in the tower, James could see about five swimmers in trouble, including a woman floating on her back.
"Hopefully, it's not as bad as it looks", he said into the radio.
As Falson tried to drag the unconscious woman onto his rescue board, signalling frantically towards the tower, it got worse.
"Singlets was screaming at me to come and help him and then I heard on the megaphone 'I think there's someone else who's just as bad hey', and I had to paddle over the crest of one of two more little waves. And then I just saw a person face down," says Oliver.
Two unconscious swimmers, more in trouble, wild waves and a tearing rip.
Only minutes had passed, but as more lifeguards paddled out to help, Falson knew he was on his own with the unconscious woman.
"When the other lifeguards paddled to the other patients I was just like 'how am I gonna manage this ... there's no-one to help?" he says.
"I just thought I'm gonna have to draw on every little bit of skill, every little bit of training to get this woman in because there really is no other option."
As he struggled to keep the woman's head above waves, get a response from her and keep her on his board, not far away, Oliver was undergoing a pounding, desperate nightmare of his own, struggling to get the unconscious man aboard.
"Usually there's a bit of colour in someone who's unconscious but mate, this was just straight-up really bad," he says.
Every wave that hit stole time the rescuers knew they didn't have.
"There were just constant little waves just like ... chipping away ... that were just making it harder and harder and harder," says Oliver.
The struggle to shore takes minutes, but must have felt like hours.
"It just drove me insane that I couldn't get him in," says Oliver.
Back on the beach, a fresh struggle begins as the lifeguards frantically start CPR on the two unconscious swimmers. Rescuers would find out later they were husband and wife.
In the tower, for James, the seconds begin to feel like hours as they wait for paramedics.
"This has got to be the worst thing I have ever seen as a lifeguard," he says.
A plea for assistance sees a man who can't speak English join the resuscitation, holding an oxygen mask on the woman as the lifeguards pump her chest.
"He couldn't speak English. Realistically, it didn't matter. We just needed his help," says Kerr.
"You are so determined to get the person back, not matter how long they've been unconscious for, you're not going to give up."
As police try to move other beachgoers back, a woman protests: "She's my sister".
Working on the unconscious man, Oliver willed him to respond.
"The whole time I wanted to see him start coughing, or blink, or something … I was just really, really hoping something would happen," he says.
The resuscitation efforts are joined by paramedics, and nobody is prepared to give up.
CPR aims to generate a shockable rhythm and hopefully, restart the heart.
"We'd been doing CPR for I reckon 20 to 25 minutes and it didn't seem like it was getting better," Falson remembers.
"Singlets and I just weren't giving up and then out of nowhere he (the paramedic) says 'hey boys I think I'm getting a faint electrical activity'," says Kerr.
"Next minute we hear ... 'there's a pulse come back'. I looked at Singlets ... 'oh my god we've got her back'."
But metres away, CPR had failed to revive the man, leaving Oliver at a loss.
"We were just 'how ... why can't we get this guy back," he says.
"Over the years we've had successful rescues and situations, and mate, it's surreal having someone die at your hands."
"It's our one job down here to get everyone home and safe out of the water but sometimes our best just isn't good enough. But it hurts ... a lot."
Bondi Rescue airs on Tuesday, April 25 at 7.30pm on Channel Ten