19 Feb 2018

Dozens rescued as dangerous swells slam Australia

7:28 am on 19 February 2018

At least 50 people have been rescued on south-east Queensland beaches as dangerous swells continue to slam the coastline in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita.

A man was winched to safety by a rescue helicopter after being stranded for two hours.

A man was winched to safety by a rescue helicopter after being stranded for two hours. Photo: Twitter/Surf Life Saving QLD

There were two mass rescues on the Sunshine Coast, where 19 people were pulled from the water in the space of about 10 minutes.

And a jet ski rider is lucky to be alive after being swamped in dangerous seas and falling off his vessel off Jumpinpin Bar.

The man in his 50s was winched to safety by a rescue helicopter after being stranded for two hours.

It was a dangerous rescue, with the helicopter camera showing the men disappearing from view as they were smashed by massive waves during the emergency.

Gold Coast duty officer Scott Burgess said it was disappointing so many people ignored safety warnings to stay out of the rough seas.

"The jet ski rider was only saved because our lifesavers were doing what we do," he said.

"Our members are volunteers at the end of the day."

Lifeguards reported at least 40 people shunned their advice not to swim at Coolangatta and Tweed Heads beaches on Sunday.

All beaches were closed on the Gold Coast and at least 15 were shut down on the Sunshine Coast.

No flags, no swim: Lifeguard

Duty officer Dave McLean said the powerful conditions and a surging swell caught large groups of swimmers off guard at Noosa late this afternoon.

"A couple of flash rips have popped up, and have caught 15 people in one flash rip," he said.

"Then, a short time later, another four needed to be rescued, and we've had other rescues on the coast as well."

The rescues were at a patrolled beach, but Mr McLean was also angry that so many people were willing to risk their lives at unpatrolled beaches.

"We've had several rescues where people have ignored the warnings, several rescues right across closed beaches," he said.

"People should have more common sense to know to follow the lifesavers' and lifeguards' advice not to go out in those dangerous conditions.

Mr McLean urged beachgoers to stay vigilant, with rough conditions expected to continue through to Monday.

"We are expecting it to continue through the night and into the morning before it starts to dissipate - but that will still leave tricky and dangerous conditions along several beaches, so a lot of those beaches will still be closed tomorrow," he said on Sunday.

Queensland Bureau of Meteorology forecaster James Thompson said the high swell had steadily increased from Friday and would get even bigger on Monday.

"[It will be] in excess of three metres and coming directly onto beaches. It is very significant and very rare," he said.

"We are looking at wave height peak across the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Fraser Coast waters Monday night to Tuesday.

"We should then see the swell turn south-easterly and reduce in height. So the impact on the beaches will start to lessen."

Risking lives taking photos

Hundreds of sightseers hit the beaches on both coasts to witness the cyclonic swell.

The waves packed a punch, with Cyclone Gita generating large and powerful surf conditions.

Lifeguards reported the waves were higher than when Cyclone Debbie slammed the coast last year.

Peaks in excess of 4.5 metres were recorded at Palm Beach and almost six metres at Tweed Heads.

Mr Burgess said sightseers risked their lives taking photos of the massive swell at Currumbin Rocks.

"They were in danger of being washed off and at one point cut off by tides," he said.

"They need to be aware how risky and dangerous that behaviour is."


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