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Don't Get Reeled In Dead, Fishermen Urged


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Don't get reeled in dead, fishermen urged

THERE is an awful swirl in the pit of Tony Wood's stomach, as violent as the grey sea below him, when the Westpac Rescue Helicopter winches a body out of the water.

The angle of the neck delivers the verdict; the head is snapped back grotesquely and the eyes are glazed.

"It can be prevented so easily," said Mr Wood, the helicopter's chief crewman.

He and the Westpac service are on a mission to get more people to wear life jackets, following the deaths of eight fishermen off Sydney in the past 12 months.

"There is nothing more disheartening, discouraging … when instead of a live, smiling body coming up that wire, all we have is dead eyes … all

for the sake of a life preserver," he said.

"We have had … eight bodies pulled from the water, all of which I am sure, if [they] had been wearing life jackets, or flotation devices, [they] would be here today with their families."

About 80 per cent of rock fishing fatalities in the state were within 30 kilometres of Sydney - a stretch of coastline that delivers great fishing and great peril in equal measure. Yet a life jacket costs just $80, the equivalent of three days' bait.

Rock fishing is listed by the NSW Government as the most dangerous sport in the country. But unlike other extreme sports, such as boxing, there is no licence requirement to wear specific clothing.

When the National Marine Safety Committee launched a discussion paper in 2006 on the mandatory use of life jackets while fishing, it received a barrage of letters against the idea.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW's submission acknowledged that although they did save lives, "there will be locations and times when it is not practical to have a life jacket on".

The president of the South Sydney Amateur Fishing Association, Stan Konstantaras, agrees. Instead of enforcing mandatory life jackets, the association has been running educational programs - 90 per cent of them aimed at people of non-English speaking backgrounds - to raise standards.

"Enforcement is never going to work," he said. "What would you do? Is someone going to go around to the rocks and fine these guys to enforce it?

"From an occupational health and safety point of view, it would be very difficult to get workers to have to go down to the rocks and patrol, and we barely have enough Fisheries officers as it is."

He said the educational programs were already paying dividends: "Last month I saw five Koreans on the northern beaches, they all had life jackets on - that would be unthinkable a few years ago," he said.

But that has done little to assuage Mr Wood's fears that the Westpac Helicopter is being used as a retrieval service for dead fisherman, rather than a rescue service for those clinging to life.

"It's soul-destroying … for the guys who actually go down and out and pick you up out of the water," he said.

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Sad, but true tale of events. If you or I had to emulate these courageous life saving individuals I am certain that we would leave a residue in our underwear just having to be inside the rescue craft.

These people are world class trained in the area of rescue. I guess any-one can scoop dead bodies of the surface of the ocean, but years of training, dedication and courage is not something that most of us mere mortals are prepared to put in, to rescue individuals that we don't even know.

Please always wear PFD's.

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