Geraldton heroes recognised at Coastal Bravery Awards

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Liam BeattyGeraldton Guardian
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Police and rescuers work to save the 17-year-old boy in May 2016.
Camera IconPolice and rescuers work to save the 17-year-old boy in May 2016. Credit: Supplied

It was in the final minutes of a school excursion to Champion Bay that disaster struck.

A group of 14 Geraldton Senior College students were enjoying themselves at the beach when the trip took a life-threatening turn.

Teenager Daniel Stewart, bodyboarding at the time, was washed against the rocks of the groyne, his arm becoming trapped between two rocks.

He was stuck and submerged in the heavy swell for about 45 minutes as rescuers desperately worked to free his arm and bring the student to safety.

Last week, his teachers, Jess Varney and Justin Wilson, were recognised for putting their lives at risk to rescue the young man on May 4, 2016.

Ms Varney, an experienced ambulance officer, immediately went into “regiment-mode” and focused on keeping Mr Stewart calm, while Mr Wilson jumped in the water to try to free his trapped arm.

WA Police officers Jason Jones, Shaun Francis, Lorne Buchan, Haydn Counsel, Christopher Fuller, Richard Hacholdt with teacher Jessica Varney and Mr Stuart Aubrey MLA who presented the awards.
Camera IconWA Police officers Jason Jones, Shaun Francis, Lorne Buchan, Haydn Counsel, Christopher Fuller, Richard Hacholdt with teacher Jessica Varney and Mr Stuart Aubrey MLA who presented the awards. Credit: Supplied

At an event in Perth on Friday , the pair were recognised alongside eight police officers for their heroic efforts at the Surf Life Saving WA 2021 Coastal Bravery Awards.

SLSWA president Craig Smith-Gander said there were many lifesaving events along the WA coastline every year, with the awards recognising those who “willingly put their own lives at risk”.

“Sometimes these acts require the rescuers to place themselves in harm’s way, and it is these incredible acts of bravery that we hope to capture and recognise through the Coastal Bravery Awards,” he said.

Mr Wilson won the gold medallion for exceptional bravery, while Ms Varney, Sen. Const. Daniel O’Keeffe, Det. Const. Haydn Counsel, Det. Sen. Const. Christopher Fuller, Sen. Const. Jason Jones, Sen. Const. Wade Barndon, Sen. Const. Lorne Buchan, Det. Sen. Const. Shaun Francis and Sen. Const. Richard Haxholdt all won the silver medallion for bravery.

Geraldton teenager Jack Cocking won the youth award after pulling an injured surfer from rough swell in February last year.

The teenager had fallen on to the rocks of a groyne and was bleeding from his head, back and chest as Jack swung into action.

He was recognised for showing “compassion and courage” during the incident, caring for his friend.

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