Spinal injury feared after Newcastle beach dive goes wrong

IT was a miscalculation of the waves that could have “been so much worse” had two lifeguards and a Newcastle Knights  trainer not been on the scene.

A Melbourne man, 27, was in hospital in a serious condition with suspected spinal injuries after his dive into the surf at Newcastle beach went wrong on Monday.

Lifeguard Dale Laverty said the man hit the sand head-first and was limp and struggling for air when he was rescued from the water.

One of the men  first on the scene to assist Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon after his devastating spinal injury earlier this year was on the beach to help.

“I’ve handled those possible spinal accidents in the past,” Knights trainer Sean Martin said.

“I wanted to help to make sure everything was done correctly because it’s very important for everything to be done the right way.

“The guys did a great job; they handled the situation very well. No one was rushed and no one panicked but everyone realised there was possibly something wrong.

“Until you know what is wrong it’s hard to know how serious it can be.”

Mr Laverty, a lifeguard with 35 years’ experience, was standing at the water’s edge at Newcastle beach, about 1pm on Monday, when  a man sped past him.

The man dived into a surf break, but the water was too shallow and he went head-first into the sand.

“The water was receding and straight away he hit the bottom. He went limp and was floating there and was turning his head to the side to try to get some air,’’ Mr Laverty said.

“Right away we knew it was a spinal injury.”

Mr Laverty and fellow lifeguard Scott Hammerton rushed to help.  

Assisted by other bystanders, they carefully placed the man on a rescue board, then moved him to the beach where he was given oxygen.

“We put him onto the rescue board because the waves were still hitting him,” Mr Laverty said.

 “You use that to keep him straight so there’s no risk of further injury.”

Mr Laverty said it was crucial to get the care right with spinal injuries and he was grateful to everyone who helped.

“I’ve seen quite number of spinal injuries over the years as a lifeguard,” he said.

“Your training kicks in. Most of them, who received quick action and were stabilised, recovered.”

Mr Laverty warned it only took a “split second” for something to go wrong, urging people to  swim only  in patrolled areas this summer holiday season.

“More than anything we want to highlight the importance of swimming between the flags and to make sure you check the conditions before you jump, or dive into the water,” he said.

“If he’d have jumped 30 seconds later, it would’ve been on the surge of the wave.

“That comes with real experience.

“It was just an accident.”

Mr Hammerton, who kept the man’s head and neck steady throughout the ordeal, said they wished him the best recovery possible.

“It could’ve been so much worse,” he said.

“Luckily it happened in a patrolled area.”

“If it had happened outside the flags, we might not have found him; you don’t know what could have happened.”