Thursday 6 February 2014

Black Sunday on Bondi Beach

"The men were crying like girls, shrieking with terror and shouting wildly for help.  On the other hand, the girls were calm and seemed to wait quietly, keeping above water as best they could until they were rescued."

Complex Emergencies - Bondi

Sydney's Bondi Beach courtesy

It was on the 6th of February 1938 that six waves in succession hit Australia's Bondi Beach, sweeping 250 bathers off the beach.  It would be Australia's biggest beach rescue in its history.  The tragedy became known as "Black Sunday".

On that fateful day, approximately 35,000 people were swimming or surfing at Bondi Beach.  It was a particularly hot day.  Swimmers, about 100 feet offshore, waded further out into the surf as the tide.  By lunchtime, lifeguards had already pulled 74 people from the sea.

At 3:00 pm, head life guard Tom Meagher reported that six "dumpers" in rapid succession hit the beach.  One by bone they swept bathers off their feet, with no break in between for the shocked bathers to catch their breath.  People struggled in the water to stay afloat as the next wave pulled them out even further.
Panic started to ensue.

Fortunately, members of the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club had arrived for their regular surfing event.  It was all hands on deck as 60 lifeguards dove into the surf to rescue those in distress.  Some were thrown life saving devices which they strapped around themselves.  Members of the panicked public pulled on some of these lines which ended up snapping.

Radio broadcasts went out pleading for police, doctors and ambulance attendants.  A visiting American doctor set to work resuscitating the victims who were later taken to the clubhouse for warmth and stimulants.  Of the 250 swept off the beach that day, 150 were rescued unharmed, 60 were immersed (near drowning), 30 were unconscious (and revived) and 5 drowned.

Black Sunday would not soon be forgotten.

Rescuers at Bondi Beach as crowds looks on courtesy

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