On Sunday October 31 last year, the scene on Bulli Beach was described as 'carnage' after seven men were pulled from the ocean following a boating accident.
One man drowned and three were left in a critical condition and the largest rescue operation Bulli had ever seen involving scores of locals.
The tragedy left a mark on those volunteers who picked themselves up and returned to their regular lives the next morning.
"That's the unique factor of the volunteer emergency services like Surf Life Saving," Bulli Surf Life Saving Club president Jamie Caldwell said.
"We went through that on a Sunday, and then the following day, people were back at work and back at school."
For many, this meant the scale of what had just occurred had to take a backseat to daily life.
It was not until the Wednesday of the next week that those involved got together at the Surf Club to start to process what they had just gone through.
"That night was the first time when people started talking to each other about the incident and started to put pieces of the incident back together," Mr Caldwell said.
The day itself started off just like any other. Temperatures had reached 17 degrees by 9am with a light east south easterly breeze on an otherwise clear day.
Abdulkarem Alnadawi and six friends had driven down to the Illawarra for a day out fishing on Mr Alnadawi's newly bought runabout which they launched just after 7am from Bellambi.
After anchoring off Woonona, by 10am, with the fish not biting, the group decided to call it quits and turned back to Bellambi.
By then, with the wind and the swell picking up, the boat was rolling through the waves, close to a rocky outcrop called Peggy's Reef.
There, a series of waves hit the boat side-on, causing it to capsize.
This sparked one of the largest, multiagency rescues the Illawarra had ever seen, with everyone from nearby surfers to specialised rescue teams attempting to get the men out of the water and back to shore.
NSW Ambulance chief inspector Norman Rees was the forward commander on the day and said the response was "absolutely enormous".
"It was big, a lot of people involved, very collaborative, and we got the best outcome," he said.
After being trapped underneath the upturned boat, four men were rushed to shore and lifesavers performed CPR on the beach. Tragically, one man passed away, but first responders say the day could have been much worse.
"We talk about the stars aligning, if Surf Life Saving weren't doing their training on that day, it would have been probably a massively different outcome," Mr Rees said.
Mr Caldwell, who in his day job works in emergency services, said it was not only the scale of the response but the speed at which rescuers were able to get to the stricken crew.
"We had a situation where from when that boat first turned over our first inflatable rescue boat (IRB) was on-scene within two minutes.
As a combined unit, we then had those six persons of interest back on the beach, within seven minutes," he said.
"That's unheard of."
But, as the adrenaline started to wear off, it was a mix of emotions for the upwards of 80 volunteers involved in the rescue on the day.
"We had a range of reactions from our members. One person didn't survive the incident and then we had people going 'How good did we do, only one person died.'"
The rescue also involved a lot of younger members of the surf club, and Mr Rees said the follow up response acknowledged the effect of the tragedy on those who hadn't seen such an incident before.
"There were a lot of people that were introduced to that world that day and saw things that they shouldn't have. We made sure that they were supported."
This cocktail of reactions overlaid a complex season for the Bulli SLSC members. Their long-time president, Keith 'Cocky' Caldwell passed away in May in the off-season and there were a number of call-outs during the season that put extra pressure on volunteers.
"There were a couple of big things last season that just sort of went bang, bang, bang, across the whole season that, yeah, all of that adds up," Mr Caldwell said.
For some, this meant the end of their time volunteering with surf lifesaving, or reducing their involvement. For others, the moment was a time to come together and acknowledge the strength of the community.
In the months that followed, the community began to learn a bit more about the people who they rescued that day.
The skipper, Mr Alnadawi, was a refugee who had escaped Iraq by boat.
The man had settled in the heart of Sydney's Iraqi community in Fairfield and was reportedly "grief-stricken" at the loss of his friend.
Mr Alnadawi was charged over the incident, but in sentencing Mr Alnadawi in April, Magistrate Claire Girotto did not record a conviction, noting that the suffering Mr Alnadawi had experienced losing his friend was "more punishment than any the court could hand out".
This year, as the red and yellow flags went up on the beach again each day, Mr Caldwell said the club had been training as usual, ready to respond if the need arises again.
"I'm really proud of the Bulli community and how it came together for people that we didn't know, people that we didn't judge, but people that were in their worst period of time they could probably ever be in.
"Everybody just jumped in and did what needed to be done in a really cohesive and efficient way. To me, those actions speak louder than any words and any certificates or awards that anybody could get.
"It's a very rare thing, the community spirit that we've got in that area, and that's what I always go back to.
"Because it was unscripted, no one was expecting that to happen.
"And the way people just started doing what needed to be done was absolutely amazing."
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