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Yamba man Bryce Ellis averted tragedy at Main Beach on Sunday March 4. He is pictured overlooking the area where he rescued a group of people on a much calmer day than pictured here. Mr Ellis secured their safety in the small cove directly inshore of Lone Rock. Image: Geoff Helisma

Yamba man averts tragedy

Geoff Helisma |

If not for the actions of a lone fisherman on Sunday afternoon March 4, a number of tourists swimming at the northern end of Main Beach, Yamba would most likely have perished at the whim of a seemingly benign ocean.

Lynne Wilson, who lives in a house overlooking Main Beach, witnessed the entire scenario from her deck. She has written to Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and others seeking recognition for the man responsible for saving their lives.

“I would like to nominate Mr Bryce Ellis … for a commendation, for his quick and altruistic actions in rescuing a large group (7) of Asian tourists at the northern end of Main Beach….” she wrote.

“I witnessed the whole scenario over [the] hour before and during the event.

“He was fishing on the rocks below my house when the group, very obviously non-swimmers, were in the shallow water of the calm gutter immediately in front of where he was fishing, with baby kickboards and a noodle and some goggles and snorkels.”

Mr Ellis shared his story with the Independent. 

“I was just fishing down in the northern corner and the girl came in and was snorkelling right where I was fishing.

“She left and grabbed a group of her friends. Then they returned and they all jumped in and they were swimming in the shallows [and] snorkelling right where I was.

“I packed up after a while and started to walk home and got to around near the surf club and could hear them, certainly, in trouble [and] yelling, and just ran across the sandbank – it was really shallow and I ran across there and jumped in.

“They were out in the [deeper] green water by then. There was no swell or anything, just a strong rip.

“…I don’t think they were swimmers; I don’t think they could even swim. One of them had a noodle, I think. I just picked the two who were really struggling and weak and out of oxygen, and secured them towards the rocks.

“Then had the others sort of grabbing hold of my legs and, you know, bits and pieces.

“[I] got the first two up onto the rocks … just because they were in real trouble. A young girl had gone under. I didn’t know if she had fluid on the lungs or anything. The other larger girl was in distress, palpitating and didn’t sort of have much breath.

“I made sure those two were alright. That took a bit of time, and then the other guys just told them to come and grab me sporadically, so I could, sort of, just, close by, grab hold.

“I propped them up a little bit, but motioned the other two towards the rocks.

“I was lucky I had my shirt on, they were grabbing it, but I had to push them away [while assisting others]; you know what it’s like when panic sets in.”

A short time later, Mr Ellis returned to the beach with his paddle board and subsequently spoke with the people “to monitor if they needed medical assistance”; they were still in the car park just talking– they said ‘we are nurses from western Sydney’”.

“They were really grateful; they were in a fair bit of shock, I think. It’s like the ocean can creep up on everybody at some stage,” Mr Ellis said.

“But, I think, just the total lack of experience and knowledge exposed them on the smallest day with a strong rip. Yeah, but they were gracious.”

Several others came to the aid of the people in trouble; however, this was while Mr Ellis was completing the rescue. He said he wasn’t aware of what else was happening on the beach, as he was “out on the rocks, out on the tip towards Lone Rock”.

“One male didn’t need rescuing,” he said. “They were all in, they had them all on the rocks; I didn’t see anything.”

Ms Wilson, who tracked down Mr Ellis and set up this interview, wrote at the end of her letter to Mr Gulaptis: “Mr Ellis did not seek to be given any praise or credit for his actions, but I believe these unsung heroes are the most worthy of an award.”

Another Yamba man, Lachlan Major, one of the two people who also assisted two swimmers in waste deep water after a significant part of the rescue had been completed, wrote this, in part, on the Yamba Notice Board Facebook site: “The fisherman mentioned did an incredible job and should be commended for how quick he acted.

“…I don’t think we should try to take away from what the fisherman did, but more recognise that we need to educate people into being safe at the beach.”