Lifeguards have saved the life of a paraglider who ditched into the sea off Whale Beach.

Just after 1.45pm yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, 27 March), Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) lifeguards at Whale Beach observed a paraglider descend into the water around 200m offshore.

Whale Beach lifeguards James Simmonds (main image, left) and George Bush (main image, right) jumped into action immediately. Mr Simmonds said when he saw the man splash down in the water, he called for assistance from the lifeguards at Palm Beach with a jet-ski and grabbed a rescue board.

“I saw the paraglider come from the south and go down into the water. I could just see this yellow blob from his kite. As I grabbed a rescue board, I got on the radio to Palm Beach to launch their jet-ski and meet me out there.

“I paddled out and got to him just as he managed to unclip himself from his harness. I got him up onto my board and when the jet-ski arrived, I off-loaded him and they dropped him back to the beach while I stayed with the kite in the water.

“The jet-ski came back out and I tried to pull the kite in, but it was way too waterlogged and weighed a tonne. There was also some danger with all the cords getting tangled,” said Mr Simmonds.

Lifeguards save paraglider at Whale Beach

Colleague George Bush said he had been at the Surf Club when the incident began, and saw Mr Simmonds leave his radio on the beach as he raced into the water to help the man.

“I was up in the room having lunch when I heard James’ radio call. As I came back onto the beach, he had already raced out on a board to help the guy.

“He couldn’t take the radio with him into the water, so I stayed on the beach to coordinate and guide the jet-ski based on what I could see. Then once they were back on the beach I made sure they were okay,” said Mr Bush.

Whale Beach was closed today due to dangerous conditions. With the fully clothed paraglider at risk of being dragged underwater by his parachute rapidly filling with water and gaining weight, the swift reaction of the lifeguards at Whale Beach was critical.

Paraglider takes off from Robert Dunn Reserve, Mona Vale

The paraglider, a man in his 40s, told the Northern Beaches Advocate he had taken off from Mona Vale and was ‘headland hopping’ his way to Palm Beach, with the assistance of a strong southerly wind.

He said that he failed to get enough uplift from Bangalley Head to make it to the next headland, before coming down around 200m offshore at the northern end of Whale Beach.

Lifeguards save paraglider at Whale Beach

A friend of the man arrived at Whale Beach and explained to lifeguards how the parachute would need to be brought in from the water.

When lifeguards were unable to retrieve the parachute due to the weight of water, the friend rode out with the jet-ski to assist (image above), but was also unable to gather the parachute before they came too close to rocks and had to abandon the attempt.

NSW Police Marine Area Command at Whale Beach

NSW Police Marine Area Command were called to assist with the retrieval of the chute (image above), but were also unable to pull it in due to the weight of water. They informed SLSNSW that the parachute would be allowed to drift, and based on currents it would likely wash up at Palm Beach before sunset.

Due to the rapid response of lifeguards, the paraglider was completely uninjured and did not require any medical assistance. An experienced flyer, he said he was slightly embarrassed at needing to be rescued, but extremely thankful to the lifeguards. He also said that he had done safety training for an emergency landing in water, which had helped in the high-pressure situation.

Rescue boards on beach after rescue

Full-time lifeguards are stationed across the Northern Beaches until Sunday, 28 April. In a few more weeks, without vigilant eyes watching from the beach on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, the outcome may well have been entirely different.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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