Rottnest Swim team awarded for helping swimmer in strife

25 February 2022

During the 2020 Rottnest Channel Swim, a solo swimmer was nearing the island when he began experiencing the effects of hypothermia. As his support crew yelled for help they attracted the attention of Boat #1028, the nearest boat to them, which quickly drove closer to assist. On board were a team of swimmers and their crew including Gregg Tidboald, Brandon Murray, sisters Grace and Briony Barratt, and Gregg’s father Gordon.

“We were swimming past Phillip Rock and we noticed a boat that was floating a bit to our south on its own,” said Gregg. “The guys on the boat were waving and screaming trying to get attention, so we’ve driven closer and seen one of the men floating in the water with one of his support guys trying to hold him up against the boat.”

After quickly assessing the situation, the team sprang into action realising they would need to get help. Grace took the lead in communicating with everyone, directing Brandon and Gregg to get into the water to help the swimmer. Briony assisted Gordon as he maintained control of the boat, giving him relevant information to make the emergency radio call. They also communicated with and reassured the crew of the stricken swimmer’s support boat, who were suffering from shock.

Brandon and Gregg had reached the swimmer, with Brandon managing to get on the other boat to help support the unconscious man and hold him against the boat. Gregg was in the water supporting the man’s hips whilst treading water. “He was pretty much lifeless,” said Gregg. “He was breathing, but it was more like wheezing than breathing and his eyes were closed; he was unconscious. He was blue, visibly blue, from the cold.

“We waited for what felt like 30 minutes but it was probably only five minutes. I was just treading water holding him in the water waiting for Sea Rescue to come and trying to keep his head above the water. I had one of his crew members in the water with me, but they had been in the water supporting him longer than I had. Obviously I’d been swimming but they were starting to get pretty tired.”

It was around 10 minutes before emergency vessels arrived, with Grace and Briony using paddles, reach sticks and other long objects to flag them down to their location. The unconscious swimmer, Stephen, was taken to the island and later airlifted to Fiona Stanley Hospital where he spent two nights being treated before making a full recovery.

The team from Boat #1028 undertook their rescue in trying conditions at great risk to themselves in the open ocean. Their quick response and cooperation secured Stephen’s safe rescue, and they were formally acknowledged for their efforts at the 2021 Royal Life Saving Bravery Awards. Gregg and Brandon both received Gold Medallion Bravery Awards, while Gordon, Grace and Briony each received Bravery Commendations for their part in the rescue.

“I think if there’s ever been a ‘right place, right time’ in my life that was the perfect example,” said Gregg. “I’ve been a lifeguard, not anymore but I’ve been a lifeguard for over ten years – beach and at a pool. Grace has done the same and my Dad has been involved in that and Brandon’s also a lifeguard – so basically we had a fairly well-trained team to deal with it too, which I think was just really, really lucky.”

Gregg had previously worked at Bold Park Aquatic Centre and says his experience there helped him to remain calm while dealing with an emergency. “If I’d only been lifeguarding for a year, I think I would have panicked a lot more but I think constant training and going through scenarios during training – even though it’s a pool and it’s different to the ocean – I think that definitely helped me.”

Both Gregg and Brandon have also swum competitively, which also helped them in the situation. However, Gregg advises others who may find themselves in a similar situation to always assess the dangers before diving in to help. “As hard as it might be, the biggest thing is just to take a deep breath and assess the situation before just diving in. We made sure we communicated with the emergency services before me and Brandon just bailed into the water. 

“It comes down to your assessing the hazards and the danger to yourself too. Make sure that you call for help before you take action because the help needs to come, and the help might not necessarily be just for that person by the time they come. I’m fortunate in this situation because I’ve got a swimming background and a lifesaving/lifeguard background. Not everyone is going to have that. When you dive into water where you can’t stand, it’s not something that you should necessarily do on an impulse, it needs to be assessed so that there isn’t more than one person that’s struggling.”


Do you know someone who has stepped in to save, or attempt to save, someone’s life? Ensure they receive the recognition they deserve by nominating them for a Bravery Award at the link below.

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