SURF rescue helicopters are patrolling peninsula beaches daily to keep a look out for sharks, rips and people in distress in the water this summer.
Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett said the helicopter rescue service, run by Life Saving Victoria, had already completed 50 patrols along Victoria’s coastline this summer.
“Rips are dangerous and unpredictable. Have a plan, check for warning signs and know what you’re going to do if you or your kids get caught in a rip,” Ms Garrett said.
Life Saving Victoria says it is almost certain at least one person will drown on peninsula beaches this summer. Five people drowned here in the 2014-15 financial year, which represents 13 per cent of the 39 drownings across Victoria. In the 10-year period 2004-14, 41 people drowned on the peninsula and 115 were taken to hospital after almost drowning.
Westpac lifesaver rescue helicopters have responded to 250 emergencies since the summer of 2009-10, including five incidents in the first week of this year alone.
Two crews will scan the water looking for people in distress, boating accidents, rip currents and marine life, such as sharks. They will patrol the coastline from Waratah Bay in South Gippsland to Apollo Bay in south-western Victoria.
Pilots will alert lifeguards on the ground and sound sirens from the air if they spot sharks swimming close to beaches.
Their role is becoming increasingly relevant with more people getting into trouble in the water. Many are unaware of the dangers of rips and currents. A Hampton Park man was saved from drowning at Blairgowrie’s Koonya surf beach, Christmas Eve. Three bystanders braved the surf for two hours to rescue the man who had drifted 500 metres out to sea. The 56-year-old was barely breathing and having difficulty staying afloat.
A man and a woman died last week in The Alfred hospital after getting into trouble at Woolamai beach, Phillip Island, Sunday 10 January. They were among a group of seven family and work colleagues who got into trouble in waist-deep water, 7.30pm. The sandbank on which they were standing gave way and rips pulled them out of their depth, they said.
Fortunately for the others, surfers and off-duty lifesavers were on hand to pull them from the water, perform CPR, and call emergency services.
The surf rescue choppers can also support search-and-rescue operations for missing swimmers and boats, winch people to safety, and respond to distress signals sent by fishermen and others who find themselves in trouble on the water.
Patrols will run daily until Australia Day – when thousands of holidaymakers head to Victoria’s beaches and coastal towns. It will then run weekends and public holidays until Easter.