Heroic rescue at bondi beach
September 5, 1971, will go down in history as the day Bondi Icebergs Club made history. It became the first Club ever to receive the Certificate of Merit of the Royal Humane Society of NSW for a gallant rescue where many members were involved. The unique honour followed the dramatic rescue of a woman parachutist, Mrs. Pattie King, 27, of Cremorne.
The desperate struggle to save the young woman, was watched by more than 10,000 people who had gathered at Bondi beach to watch the finish of the first City to Surf footrace. During the drama enacted off Bondi beach, Mrs. King was under water for about 20 minutes, tangled in her parachute lines and at another stage of the rescue she was dragged away from her rescuers and disappeared in the surf. Mrs. King's husband, Colin King, who was supervising safety procedure from the beach, watched his wife fall into the surf in horror, and the desperate attempts to rescue her. Mrs. King was one of 10 Australian Parachute Federation members who were to make a free fall jump from 10,000 ft and land on the beach. The parachutists opened their chutes at 2,000 ft, but a sudden drop in the wind caused three of them to fall into the sea.
Mrs. King, who had previously made more than 360 descents, hit the water only five yards from MacKenzie Point, South Bondi, where 12ft waves were breaking onto the rocks. Mr. Bob Treanor, a fireman, and Mr. Ernie Scruse, a policeman, were lined up with other Bondi Icebergs ready to start a race in the baths at 10.45 am. They immediately dived in to help the woman in distress.
The two Icebergs reached Mrs. King, but could not keep her head above the water, and with each wave she became more entangled with the parachute lines. The water filled her parachute and although she was wearing flotation gear, each wave dragged her under. Mr. Kevin Doohan, of Fletcher St, Bondi, tried to take out a belt and line from a reel near the point but the line proved to be 20 yards short.
The 17ft fibreglass Waverley power rescue boat had been delayed because it had first picked up Mr. lan Swinbourne, of McMahons Point, who had parachuted into the water half a mile out to sea. He said later that he had collided with Mrs. King's parachute when his own opened at 2,000 feet. There were a couple of twists in the lines, and when they straightened out, he had veered sharply into Mrs. King's suspension lines, just below the edge of the canopy.
To stop himself going through the lines and getting entangled, he spread-eagled his arms and legs. Swinbourne bounced off the taut lines, but one flicked his reserve parachute ripcord and he floated down with two parachutes, unable to steer. One of the other parachutists, Mr. Geoff Bingham, of Mitchell St, McMahons Point, landed on McKenzie beach. He immediately released his gear and dived into the sea to help Mrs. King.
By this time the power rescue boat had got to within 10 yards of the drowning woman and her supporters. A crewman dived in with a line and tied it to the chute, hoping to tow her away from the rocks, but a huge wave washed over the boat, washing another of the crew overboard.
The parachute, like a giant sea-anchor, dragged the stern of the boat down and the next wave flipped it over backwards, throwing the driver and Mr. Swinbourne into the surf. The boat was smashed on the rocks.
Mr. Treanor told the Sydney Morning Herald: "When the big wave that overturned the boat hit the chute we couldn't hold the woman. She was dragged out of our hands and we couldn't see her in all that white water." A rip known to locals as the "bogey" carried Mrs. King opposite Bondi Baths where a man glimpsed her hand in the surf and about 15 men jumped into the water to help her.
One, Mr. Neil Smith, of Waverley, had been directing the rescue from the beach by two-way radio. The men fought desperately to keep Mrs. King up, but her parachute and sodden equipment were too heavy. "She kept sinking, so the only thing we could do was to grab the parachute and drag her along the bottom to the beach," Mr. Smith said. He added: “We just couldn't pull her up and she was underwater for about 20 minutes. It took a long time because it is rocky there and she kept snagging on the bottom".
Resuscitation equipment was rushed to the beach from the Prince of Wales Hospital. Dr. Terry Tydd of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Dr. James Smith of Randwick, and Dr. T. Kraerner, of Bondi, took turns in giving Mrs. King closed chest massage and other cardiac treatment. Oxygen was administered continuously in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
The jump master and State Secretary of the Parachute Federation, Mr. Ted Harrison, 34, of Glebe, who was one of the parachutists, said two wind indicators dropped head revealed that the jump should be made about 100 yards south east of MacKenzie Point, if the parachutists were to land opposite Bondi Pavilion. To stop them overshooting and crashing into the crowd, he said, he added a safety margin of 200 yards. But in the 10 minutes it took the aircraft to climb from 2,000 to 10,000 ft, there had been a brief lull in the wind.
"We were expecting the wind to increase and not drop," - he said. Mr. Harrison said he was so confident of landing on the beach that he jumped with a $700 motor driven camera, which was ruined when he landed in the sea.
Others injured included the driver of the rescue boat, Mr Paul Hoolahan, of Bronte, who was taken to Eastern Suburbs Hospital suffering from concussion but was later allowed to leave. Another crewman, Mr Paul Meehan, of Bondi, was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital, where he was treated for cuts, shock and immersion and was allowed to go home. Mrs King died four days later in hospital.
Congratulations poured into the Icebergs Club for its major role in the rescue of Mrs. King.
Signed by the mayor, Ald Doug Morey and the Town Clerk, the Club received a letter under seal of Waverley Council, which stated:
Bondi Icebergs Club,
25th August 1972
Dear Mr. Gow,
The aldermen of the Council of the Municipality of Waverley, at the ordinary meeting of Council held on Tuesday evening last, 22nd August, 1972, noted with appreciation the information forwarded by the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales, that it intends to issue a Group Certificate of Merit to the Bondi Icebergs Club, following upon the courageous actions of many members who took part in the rescue operations following upon the tragic sequel of the organised parachute descent which was held on the occasion of the City to Surf race on 5th September, 1971.
The Council feels that the award made by the Royal Humane Society has not only brought honour to the members concerned and to the Bondi Icebergs Club but to the Municipality of Waverley.
Authorised by Resolution of Council of the 22nd August, 1972." Signed Mayor and Town Clerk.
The Council seal was affixed to the letter, and on it was overwritten "The Council's seal was affixed hereto to conform with the Resolution above noted". The Royal Humane Society Certificate which with Council's letter, and a citation and photographs of the Governor of NSW, Sir Roden Cutler, presenting the award to Club members was framed and hangs proudly in the Clubhouse the old Clubhouse.
The Certificate of Merit states:
The Royal Humane Society of New South Wales.
"This Certificate of Merit has been awarded to members of Bondi Icebergs Club for bravery on 5th September, 197l."
Signed (Sir) Adrian Curlewis, President.
The citation in the frame, states:
"On September 5, 1971, shortly after 10.40 a.m, Mrs. Patricia King, a member of the Australian Parachutist Federation, while taking part in a parachute jumping and free fall display, fell into the ocean off MacKenzie Point, when she failed to reach the nearby-appointed landing position on Bondi Beach. Hampered by both her main and emergency parachutes and a heavy easterly swell, she began to drift towards a bombora off the rocks south of Bondi Baths.
Bingham, who landed safely, discarded his parachute equipment and swam out to her assistance, where he was joined by Maidment. The two men tried to support Mrs. King, who was hampered not only by two parachutes but also by her jump suit, boots and helmet, although wearing a partly inflated 'Mae West' jacket.
Scruse and Treanor, then reached them and made unsuccessful attempts to release the parachute harness. By this time the five of them had been carried into the Bombora and as large waves pounded them, the men several times lost their hold on Mrs. King. "At this stage, Messrs Meehan, Fatoupolis, Hoolahan and Greenwood, members of the Bondi jet rescue boat, together with another rescued parachutist Ian Swinbourne, reached the group. Meehan and Fatoupolis tried to fasten a line from the boat to Mrs. King's parachute in an effort to drag her away from the rocks.
The attempt failed when the boat was washed onto the rocks. It's occupants were thrown into the water and were in danger of drowning, particularly Hoolahan, who had a head injury.
Members of the Bondi Icebergs Club got Hoolahan, Fatoupolis, Greenwood and Swinbourne out of the water on to the rocks. Scruse and Meehan were picked up in a police launch. Meanwhile some other members of the Bondi Icebergs Club tried to pull Mrs. King to safety by using her parachute lines, but continuous high waves swept her out of sight. Later, Mrs. King was sighted near Bondi Baths and members of the Bondi Icebergs Club succeeded in getting her to the beach.
She died four days later in hospital.
Recollections of Greg Maidment, March 2013.
The first City to Surf event, on 5 September 1971, was to be celebrated with a parachute display, the landing to be on the beach.
We then lived in Kenneth St, Mackenzie Point, overlooking the water, and intended to take our young son to observe the spectacle.
On the morning of the event the surf was big and heavy and a very strong Southerly wind was gusting, I told my wife that we should take our son to South Bondi to view the event but that, as I thought it too dangerous for the parachute jump, we ought not tell him of it as he would likely be disappointed.
We walked to the path near “The Boot” and waited to see what would occur. Contrary to my expectation parachutists appeared, travelling very quickly from South to North in the wind.
I sensed tragedy as some of them narrowly missed the high-rise at South Bondi, I was amazed that they avoided them. Some actually appeared to go between buildings , they seemed out of control. I then saw a parachutist hit the water about 200 metres out and towards North Bondi.
A fibre glass jet rescue boat which was patrolling went to the rescue.
My next recollection is that another landed in the water off "The Boot”, I remember handing my binoculars to a stranger , stripping to my costumes and going in from the rocks. I swam to the parachutists , a young woman named Patricia King, who was by then being assisted by a who, I later learned, was one of the parachutists.
I remember saying not to panic as the rescue boat was in the water, Mrs King was in a state of shock and did not respond to questions as to how the chute could be jettisoned. I also remember raising my hand signalling the need for help.
Time is difficult to reckon in such a situation; shortly two Icebergs, Ernie Scruse and Bob Treanor, despite considerable personal risk, dived in from the rocks off the baths, they too attempted to help but by then the emergency chute was also open, also Mrs King was wearing heavy clothing. All efforts were in vain.
By this time we had drifted from reasonably deep water towards a bombora where bigger waves were even more threatening. After what seemed like an eternity the rescue boat arrived and, in the face of a large wave rising on the bombora, the crew bravely took a risk in an attempt to snatch Mrs King from the water.
Other Icebergs helped the boat’s crew members.
I swam to the steps on the beach side of the baths. I remember taking a part smoked cigarette from a spectator at the baths and rejoining my family. My wife was distraught having witnessed it all but also the stranger who had my binoculars had told her one of the swimmers had disappeared. This caused my wife to fear that I might also have gone.
The only good that came from this was the decision by Mrs King’s family to permit organ donation. As Mrs King was young, fit and healthy several persons received considerable benefit.