FORMER Stawell resident Jon Dark, who lifeguards along the Mornington Peninsula, has a message for his home town.
"Stay safe around the water and know your ability to swim before you get in."
The message comes after Mr Dark was involved in two separate rescues of five children in Mornington.
Mr Dark is living by Melbourne's coronavirus restrictions and said it was pure luck he was at the beach on what turned out to be an eventful day.
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"We went out with another family and headed down to Mornington Mills beach where I've been a lifeguard for the past 6-8 years," he said.
"I just happened to be down there with the kids - five boys. Under the restrictions, we can meet up with another family.
"The boys had gone into the water to have a swim."
Mr Dark said the bay was quite "choppy" and "unpredictable".
"Unlike the surf where you can predict waves coming in, the bay is quite different," he said.
"The boys started drifting and one of my mates said 'something isn't right here'.
"The boys were about 50-100 metres out and it didn't seem right to me either."
Mr Dark said he headed down to the front of the surf lifesaving club.
"I could really see the kids were in trouble so myself, a mate who was a lifesaver in Queensland many years ago and another guy who happened to be another lifesaver went out and got them," he said.
"There was enough rip and undertow to drag these kids under.
"It was all off-duty. We had no equipment and just went out and did our thing and dragged these kids back in.
"It was hard work. The water was between 14-16 degrees. To keep the kids above was difficult because we had no equipment."
Mr Dark said after the rescue and the adrenaline started to settle, things turned worse again.
"Another five kids were in the water and as I was talking to friends all of a sudden I saw a mother in hysterics," he said.
"She asked for help. It was quite hairy.
"We have a choice to make and I'm pretty gung-ho and don't worry about myself.
"I've gone in and helped these kids."
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Mr Dark said there happened to be other youths on boards which helped with the second rescue.
"I was there more for guidance and the kids on the boards did a bit of the work," he said.
"The rip was that powerful at one stage I had to come back onto shore and run up about 200m and gone in up further to guide these kids in.
"It was a bit of an all-rounder. I didn't expect two major rescues within a 2-3 hour period."
Reflecting on the incident, Mr Dark said he could understand the kids' excitement of being able to go to the beach on a beautiful spring day.
"Everyone just needs to remember that we've been cooped up for some time and our swimming ability might not be what it was at last year," he said.
"Water can be dangerous and people need to remember to swim only in water to our abilities.
"Because of covid, our Surf Lifesaving Club has been closed - so if anything the incident has made for conversations about the need to have these clubs open in some capacity and access to equipment if needed."
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