Volunteers recognised with Australian Search and Rescue Award

Friday 16 October 2015
Volunteers from Port Stephens have been awarded the 2015 Australian Search and Rescue Award for their bravery and seamanship during a rescue operation to save two people from a yacht in cyclonic weather conditions.
2015 Australian Search and Rescue Award recipients - Port Stephens Volunteer Marine Rescue crew - pictured with AMSA CEO Mick Kinley, Brisbane

Each year, the National Search and Rescue (NATSAR) Council recognises an outstanding contribution to search and rescue. The NATSAR Council is comprised of members from AMSA, the Australian Defence Force, state, territory and federal police.

The successful nominees have either made a significant contribution to Australia's search and rescue capabilities or to the saving of a human life.

On April 21 this year, NSW Marine Rescue Port Stephens Skipper Michael Smith and his crew - Rob Johnson, Richard Pizzuto, Barney Pinney, Laurie Nolan, Barbara Cole, Peter Merlino and Paul Sullivan - responded to a Mayday call from a yacht, Reef Dragon.

AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley said the lifeboat crew had battled category two cyclonic winds during the rescue effort, following the Mayday call to the Port Stephens Marine Rescue Radio Base.

“The crew, based in Nelson Bay, were tasked to Fame Cove, battling extreme weather conditions, with cyclone-force winds in excess of 78 knots and three to four metre swells to reach the stricken yacht, Reef Dragon,” Mr Kinley said.

“The two people on board the Reef Dragon reported the yacht was dragging its mooring towards nearby rocks and was beginning to break up, and they were preparing to abandon the vessel.”

On arrival at Fame Cove, the Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) crew launched its inflatable y-boat with two crew members on board, completing the rescue just before the yacht was lost, Mr Kinley said.

“After two and a half gruelling hours, the survivors were recovered to the NSW Marine Rescue Base at Nelson Bay.”

Mr Kinley said without the bravery, selflessness and seamanship of Skipper Michael Smith and his crew, the two people on board the yacht would have been forced to abandon the vessel in dangerous weather conditions.

“The volunteers might say ‘they were just doing their job’ but they went above and beyond their duties to rescue the pair and it’s possible they saved their lives."