MEDIA RELEASE - Determined survivor thanks “heroic” local lifeguards for saving her life after surfing accident

Published On 14 December 2020 at 02:00 PM

A fateful decision to paddle out into unfamiliar waters has had a profound effect on the life of Kogarah mother of two Sally McEwan. But were it not for the efforts of a dedicated group of Sutherland Shire Council lifeguards, the consequences could have been even more profound.

Left motionless from the neck down after a surfing accident at North Cronulla in December 2018, Ms McEwan faced incredible danger as lifeguards raced to rescue her amid a surging high tide.

Told by doctors in the aftermath of her accident that she was likely never to walk again, the firefighter, artist and avid sportswoman knew she faced an incredible challenge in returning to the life she had once so actively enjoyed.

But thanks to their rapid and skilful response, Ms McEwan was today able to walk back to North Cronulla to thank the lifeguards who lead efforts to rescue her and the NSW Ambulance paramedics who provided further treatment at the scene.

"I wouldn’t be walking today if it wasn’t for the heroic acts of everyone who was there to help me that day,” Ms McEwan said.

“It was the worst day of my life and there they were to help me through it so calmly – that care meant all the world to someone who was in such distress.”

Sutherland Shire Council Manager of Public Safety and Lifeguards, Brett Richardson, was among the first on the scene to respond to the incident and remembers vividly the challenges that lifeguards faced in bringing Sally safely to shore.

“Of all the incidents I’ve been called on to respond to, this was among the most challenging as we had a patient with significant injuries in a difficult to access area and with high tide looming it really was a race against time,” Mr Richardson said.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see the extraordinary recovery that Sally has had since her injury and to know that through the collective efforts of our lifeguards we have played a vital role in ensuring that she’s still here with us today.

“Even more gratifying is the knowledge that Sally continues to make such an important contribution giving back to our community to this day through her work with Fire & Rescue NSW.”

Ms McEwan was serving as a firefighter with Fire & Rescue NSW at the time of her accident, and continues to serve the organisation through their Community Engagement Unit, saying that her professional experience was one of the key motivators in her commitment to one day meet her rescuers and express her thanks in person.

“I know what it’s like to respond to dramatic situations and help someone through the darkest moments of their life, only to walk away and never know how things turned out for them,” Ms McEwan said.

‘That’s why I was so determined to come back and meet those people who had helped me and let them know about my recovery journey.”

Ms McEwan also extended her thanks to the NSW Ambulance paramedics who were on hand to treat her in the immediate aftermath of her accident, with Paramedic Harry Reeves and Station Officer Chris Gothard once again in attendance today to take part in the emotional reunion. 

Sutherland Shire Mayor, Councillor Steve Simpson also expressed his gratitude to those that played such a vital role in rescuing Ms McEwan, saying that their efforts were a testament to the incredible talents of the team.

“Every day our dedicated lifeguards are out there serving our community and helping keep local residents and visitors to our region safe through their work on our beaches and in raising awareness of water safety,” Mayor Simpson said.

“They are an exceptionally skilled group of individuals always at the ready to save the lives of those in need, and there can be no greater example of the profound effect their efforts can have than in the incredible story of Sally’s rescue and recovery.” 

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