Council lifeguards have been praised for their quick actions after a paraglider crashed into the ocean and almost drowned when he became tangled in his chute.
The life-or-death situation unfolded off Stanwell Park beach on Thursday afternoon, with Wollongong City Council lifeguards Harry Steele, 22, and Luke Essenstam, 21, among the first responders.
The duo rushed to the aid of the stricken pilot – a man in his 50s – via jet-ski as another glider, Martin Wysocki, helped in the water.
The pilot was “barely floating” and “tangled in the chute and the ropes” when rescuers arrived, lifeguard supervisor Keith Miller said.
“One of our guys went into the water with a rescue tube to try and keep him afloat while he tried to cut the lines,” Mr Miller said.
“He was semi-successful in that. He actually dropped the knife, so he basically had to untangle the guy.”
Mr Wysocki, the chief flying instructor and owner of Bald Hill-based business Hollywood Paragliding, had sprung into action prior to the lifeguards’ arrival.
“I’ve flown down ... and landed on the rocks, took my gear off and jumped in the water to try and keep the guy’s head above water,” he said.
The swift response was crucial, Mr Wysocki said.
“The whole paraglider can fill up with about six tonnes of water, so it can pull you down under very quickly,” he said. “And if you have any lines caught around you, those lines are very, very strong; you can’t break them with your hands, you actually have to cut them off you.
“I just stayed there until the [lifeguards] arrived, and then they were able to get the lines off his legs and tow him back to the shore.”
Bulli’s Tony Sandeberg watched the rescue unfold and praised the actions of all involved.
“The guy on the jet-ski was absolutely brilliant. There was a four-metre swell and he’s dodging the swell trying to get this guy out,” he said, adding Mr Wysocki was with the man for at least 20 minutes.
“He saved his life, it was really emotional.”
The man was flown to St George Hospital, where he remained in a critical condition on Friday afternoon.
Mr Miller said the location of the rescue, in the wave zone close to rocks, made for a “really dangerous situation”.
“I’m really, really proud of those young guys … they’re certainly not seasoned veterans, but it just shows you the quality of watermen that they are,” he said.