Junior Lifeguard Club member becomes a lifesaver

13 October 2016

During the December school holiday in 2015, 15 year old Rhys Abernethy went to the beach with some friends during a family holiday at Esperance. They took their boogie boards and went out for a swim, not knowing that a major drama was about to unfold.

The group spent some time playing in the water before one of the younger children started to get dumped by the waves. One of the parents, Rich Cowlin, decided to go out behind the group to ensure no-one went out too far. A few minutes later Rich got caught in a rip and was being taken out to sea. It took about 10 or 15 minutes for anyone to realize he was in trouble but once they did Rhys and his father Trevor took action straight away, heading out to rescue him.

Rhys says “It took us about 15 minutes to get out to him as the conditions were pretty difficult, and once we got there it took us another 20 minutes to bring him back to shore.” With all the family and friends watching the drama unfold Rhys says it was a very stressful situation. “As I headed out I was just hoping he could keep his head up long enough for us to reach him. When we got there he started to pass out and was falling in and out of consciousness, sometimes for 5 minutes at a time. I started to worry that we would lose him.”

Rhys has been a member of the Cannington Junior Lifeguard Club for a number of years and has also completed his Bronze Cross. Rhys says without that training the situation could have ended very differently. “ I’ve been working at this training for years now and through Junior Lifeguard Club I’ve learned initiative, tows and just generally knowing what to do in an emergency situation. Without all of that I probably wouldn’t have been able to help as I wouldn’t be as strong a swimmer.”

Trevor says he's extremely proud of his son! "When we were coming back in it was taking all my strength to hold Rich onto the board, so I just had my legs to kick with. Without Rhys' skills I'm sure the situation would have turned out very differently."

Rich was attended to by ambulance crews on the day and has made a full recovery. In a Facebook post his wife Mon expressed her thanks to Rhys’ mum Di. “I owe my husband’s life to your boys Di. Thank you so much to Trevor and Rhys I will always be eternally grateful.”

Rhys says the situation made him very aware of how important his Junior Lifeguard Club and Bronze Cross training are, and he has one message for every other West Australian. “It’s such a good skill to have because you never know when you’re going to need it. I didn’t know that day could have been the last time that Rich went down to the beach. Lifesaving skills are something that everybody should know so we can help people out. It’s the Australian thing to do. If I hadn’t have had those skills it probably wouldn’t have ended the way it did.”

Rhys and his father Trevor received a Royal Life Saving Gold Cross Bravery Award for their amazing efforts, and we congratulate them both for showing courage in such a dangerous situation!.

Do you know someone who's saved a life recently?

Why not nominate them for a Royal Life Saving Bravery Award?