WELL-KNOWN Tathra local Andy Johnson was one of the first responders to the emergency situation at the Bega River mouth on Wednesday afternoon.
In fact, he was the lifesaver credited with assisting one of the two young swimmers who had gotten into trouble, caught in a strong outgoing tide.
In a tragic turn of events, the second 19-year-old man from Bega was swept further out to sea and drowned.
Mr Johnson is an ex-Navy and police diver and a member of the Tathra Surf Life Saving Club’s emergency call-out team – in addition to his other roles as a sometimes bus driver and full-time mountain bike track creator.
Mr Johnson said he had been called to fill in on a bus route on Wednesday when he then received the call to attend the search operation.
“We get a text message with a synopsis of the situation and we respond to the Far South Coast duty officer to set the plan of attack,” he said yesterday.
Mr Johnson said he picked up his son Josh to set up a command post at the Tathra SLSC, which was then coordinated by fellow SLSC member Melissa Meaker.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, Scott Meaker and Geoff Boulton all attended the scene to assist the growing number of emergency services personnel at Mogareeka.
“We made contact with police to assess the situation and then I swam across the river to rescue one of the boys.
“He had floated on the current to the last rock in the river mouth – he was able to grab hold of that last rock, but his friend sadly missed it.
“He rock-hopped his way back.
“I checked that he was okay and the first thing to do was to get him across the river to where the ambulance was.”
Mr Johnson said the young man was in shock and had cuts and scrapes. He was taken to Bega Hospital, while the search for his friend continued.
Mr Johnson and the Tathra SLSC crew began a grid search of the area in an IRB, assisted by police officers on the beach and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter searching from the air.
The second man was found around half an hour later and winched into the chopper, but was unable to be revived despite lengthy CPR efforts from paramedics.