Peter Bearryman looked decidedly different the last time he met the Westpac helicopter rescue crew.
He had just been hoisted into the aircraft from the ocean off Tomakin beach and was terrified his son was still struggling in the violent sea below.
He was soaking, extremely distressed, drifting in and out of consciousness and his stomach was bloated with all the water he had swallowed.
When he was reunited with his rescuers last week, he told them he had been astounded by how quickly they had come to his aid. “I couldn’t believe it,” Mr Bearryman said.
“I assumed they must have already been in the air.”
The Moruya base was only a few kilometres from where the incident occurred last month and the rescue crew had intercepted a local surf club distress call.
The 70-year-old Tomakin man had been fishing in the afternoon with his 37-year-old son, Christian, who was visiting from Canberra.
They were yet to lose any bait on the river and decided to head out into the bay to try their luck. “It was a little bit wavy,” Mr Bearryman said.
“But I misjudged it and thought it wasn’t as bad as it was.”
They were in the open water less than an hour when, just before dark, a “freak wave” hit their tinny. It pushed them towards the rocks and the swell tipped the boat over.
When Mr Bearryman surfaced, the boat was upside down. Christian had reached some high rocks and was urging his father to swim towards him.
“I was trying but the waves were pushing me away and I got exhausted,” Mr Bearryman said.
After resting on his back, he regained some energy and managed to cling to a semi-submerged rock shelf. He wrapped himself around the rocks, constantly bashed by rolling waves, and hung on for his life.
It was only a matter of minutes before a helicopter appeared overhead and he was tapped on the shoulder by a rescue crew officer.
Harry Watson performed a “snatch and grab” rescue and Mr Bearryman was in the helicopter in less than a minute.
Mr Bearryman was exhausted and lying on the floor groaning, when he heard the door shut.
“I thought where’s Christian,” he said. “And I sort of slurred ‘my son’s still out there’.”
They reopened the door and went back to search for him.
Then Mr Bearryman heard the door shut a second time.
“They said a surfer had got him,” he said. “I still wasn’t 100 per cent there and I thought they were just telling me that to break it to me lightly.”
A surfer had picked Christian up and he was safe.
Mr Bearryman was flown to a nearby park where an ambulance was waiting.
He and his son were taken to hospital and released a short time later.
The boat was found nine kilometres from shore the next morning with no motor.
Mr Bearryman met his rescuers last week for the first time since the accident.
Air crew officer Euan McKenzie has been in the job since 1994 and said reunions are “really quite rare”.
“You don’t expect people to come back and say thank you afterwards but it’s nice when they do,” he said.