“Angels were looking over us today, and they wore blue.”
So said one of two fishermen rescued by Merimbula Marine Rescue NSW volunteers during a wild storm in 2011.
The three “blue angels” who risked their own lives to save the stricken men and their vessel were presented with bravery commendations by the MRNSW Commissioner in a special ceremony on Sunday.
Bill Blakeman, Guy Illy and the late Robert Bayliss all received the prestigious honour of a Commissioners Commendation for Courage for their bravery and operational expertise during the rescue mission in turbulent conditions off Haycock Point on October 10, 2011.
Mr Bayliss’s daughter Tamara Prince accepted the commendation on his behalf.
Introducing the award, MRNSW Merimbula deputy unit commander Rod Studholme said the two people on board the small runabout owe their lives to the crew members of Merimbula 30.
He recalled the precarious situation of the stranded vessel only metres from rocks in winds of 25-30 knots and 2.5-3-metre seas, with a dead engine and broken anchor line.
“The two men on board were desperately paddling to try to keep from running on to the rocks when the rescue crew arrived,” he said.
“Skipper Blakeman managed to manoeuvre Merimbula 30 close enough to pass a tow line to the boat and quickly pull it away from immediate danger by the stern before a second line could be attached to the bow to safely return the boat to Merimbula in the worsening conditions.”
Mr Studholme said the fishermen had reportedly been considering whether to jump into the water and swim for the rocks or wait until the boat hit and then jump – both potentially fatal options given the conditions and large surf.
Mr Blakeman said the thing that sticks in his mind the most about that day was the noise.
“The seas were huge, waves were smashing into us and all orders had to be shouted over the noise,” he said.
“We managed to get a small throwing line on to them, but with the boat taking on water and moving in the swell, I only had six inches of line to hang on to. I held on to that with everything I had while yelling for my team to get the second line attached.
“It was a very quiet drive back to their car in Pambula.
One of the men said ‘angels were looking over us today and they wore blue’.
“Hearing that again today still gives me a rush of emotion.
“I wouldn’t want to do it again...but I probably would.”