Aquatic rescue across jagged Pilbara reef earns Bravery Award

25 October 2021
In October last year, Sam Redfern went on a fishing trip with friends Toby and Kayla at Cape Keraudren, approximately 150km north of Port Hedland. The trio were setting up their camp when they met Tania, who had also decided to camp nearby.

Sam and Tania walked out during low tide in the afternoon to the large rock bommie around 500 metres offshore, but began to head back when Sam noticed the water level starting to rise. “The tide started to rise pretty quick, and the sun was already starting to go down,” said Sam. "When the water got to about knee height, Tania stepped on something that went out from under her feet and started having a panic attack."

Sam, who was walking in front, tried to reassure Tania and encourage her to keep walking. “But when I turned around, she was face down in the water. Knowing the shoreline was still over 500 metres away and it was a seven-metre-plus incoming tide I first tried to wake Tania up. When she wouldn't regain consciousness, I picked her up and started screaming out for Toby and Kayla.”

Toby and Kayla had difficulty seeing them in the darkening conditions; they tried to call out but couldn’t be heard over the waves. “Myself and Kayla positioned the vehicle with lights on to provide a landmark for them to see in hopes they were still on their way back,” said Toby. “Attempts were made to contact help, however little to no phone reception was making it difficult and neither of us were sure as to if they were still ok or not.”

Aware that time was of the essence, Sam had made the decision to carry Tania back across the rock shelf. “It soon got very dark and I couldn't see anything except the moonlit water. I was barefoot and the rocks under my feet were covered in shells. I tripped over at one point, kicking a waist-height rock and knew straight away it had just broken a few toes. I fell over a few times too, which is where the scratches and cuts on my back are from.”

The strong current made the going even tougher, taking Sam an hour and a half to carry Tania through the water back to shore. “Tania woke up with around 50 metres to go and couldn't feel her legs and was freaking out as she had no idea what was going on. By the time I got Tania to the bank, the water at the shoreline was a little over my shoulder height. Once I reached the bank I just remember being hit with pain and cramping and collapsing on the ground.”
Tania was driven to Port Hedland Hospital where it was discovered she had in fact suffered a brain aneurysm. She was later flown to Royal Perth Hospital for surgery.

Tania Casotti holding Sam Redfern's Bravery AwardSam has been awarded a Royal Life Saving Gold Cross Bravery Award for his incredible effort to carry Tania over the sharp rock reef through darkness and amidst a strong tidal current, despite his own injuries. Now back at home in New South Wales, Sam was unable to attend the award ceremony which was recently held in Perth but arranged for Tania to attend and collect the award on his behalf.

Sam says it is a great honour to receive such an accolade. “I had no idea I was even being nominated so it all came as a bit of a shock. I think everyone has the ability to help another out in such trying conditions. When the adrenalin and survival instinct kick in, there isn’t really another option. You help that person or spend the rest of your life wondering if there was something you could have done to save them.”

Toby, who nominated Sam for the award, has nothing but admiration and praise for his friend’s courageous act. “He carried out an aquatic rescue over a large distance and in difficult conditions, displaying great courage and selflessness in a dangerous and unusual situation. There is no doubt in my mind that had Sam not been there, Tania would not have survived the ordeal.”

If you know someone who has stepped in to save, or attempt to save someone’s life, we’d love to be able to give them the recognition they deserve. You can nominate them for a Bravery Award at the link below.
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