Amazing footage has emerged of a cliff rescue at Thunder Cave near Loch Ard Gorge in 1966 that helped forge the reputation of the Port Campbell Cliff Rescue Squad.
The squad was formed after the deaths of three members of Colac's Brassell family in December 1958 - husband and wife Arthur and Shirley and their 12-year-old son John at Beacon Steps.
That took the number of drownings in the Port Campbell district to six in 18 months.
Historian and 30-year Port Campbell Cliff Rescue Squad and then State Emergency Service member, Peter Younis, said the footage came to light late last week.
Adelaide resident Graham Medlin took the original footage with an 8mm camera on January 14, 1966, during a trip between Adelaide and Melbourne.
That film has recently been digitised by his son Andrew, who thought the footage may be of interest to Port Campbell residents.
The footage shows Mount Gambier woman Jean Raggett, 45, being rescued after she was swept off a ledge about six metres above the sea by a large wave at Thunder Cave, just west of Loch Ard Gorge.
Mrs Raggatt in the following days said that at the time she thought: "If I'm going to drown, I hope I go quickly".
Mr Younis said the operation was folklore in the cliff rescue squad and the footage confirmed the account.
"The Brassell incident on December 10, 1958, was the catalyst for the formation of both the Port Campbell Cliff Rescue Squad and the Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club," he said.
"The impact of that incident and the sense of helplessness felt by those that were there that day was the catalyst for action.
"The cliff rescue squad was formed on March 13, 1963. Local policeman Duncan Hales was a driving force behind its formation and the squad was helped considerably by the police search and rescue unit."
Mr Younis said the Brassell incident was talked about in hushed tones but it galvanised the community to take action.
"That incident at Beacon Steps and the death of the three family members had a significant impact on the community," he said.
"Five children were left orphaned when John fell in, his mother dived in and then other children raised the alarm. Arthur arrived and he dived in.
"They all drowned. By the time people arrived it was too late."
The historian said the rescue of Jean Raggatt was one of the first major rescue operations of the cliff squad.
"This rescue was one of the most significant operations the squad had undertaken at that time. It was less than three years after its formation," Mr Younis said.
"It's fair to say it was a major incident still recognised within the unit and the rescue was excellent in its execution.
"I was at school, but I knew the details and then this video turned up."
Mr Younis said Port Campbell SES volunteers watched the video last Sunday when training had been scheduled.
"The crew watched it about three times," he said.
"We're highly qualified and have modern equipment, but we closely looked at what they did.
"What shone out was that the actions of the foundation members involved clear thinking and decisive action - their plans were faultless."
Cliff squad member Frank Coxon was working on a pine plantation across the road from Loch Ard Gorge when the alarm was raised that Mrs Raggatt had been swept into the ocean.
Mr Coxon threw a large inflated inner tube attached to rope to Mrs Raggatt, to help her stay afloat and she was then guided away from the rocks.
A second rope was then thrown to Mrs Raggatt and she was able to be guided towards a ledge where Mr Coxon and Gus Ward were able to grab her and carry her to safety.
Mr Coxon and Mr Ward were both attached to ropes held by squad members and as the waves receded they saved her.
After the rescue from mountainous seas, Mrs Raggatt said she was in the water for about 75 minutes.
She said after being swept in she initially thought she was taking a long time to drown and then instinctively fought her way to the surface of the seething white water.
"All I can remember about the whirlpool is 'bang, bang, bang'," she said.
"Just before I was washed off the ledge my husband said: 'You would never get out of there alive'.
"You had to fight to get anywhere in those seas. I was sucked down, tossed and thrown."
Mrs Raggatt's arms, legs and body were gashed on the rocks and her clothes torn to threads.
"I did pray," she said.
"I remember calling out, 'God help me'. I do believe there's someone who looks after you."
Mrs Raggatt said the inflated tube saved her, before being plucked from the water and carried more than 50 metres to the top of the cliffs.
"As soon as they got me I couldn't do anything," she said,
The rescued woman said her experience as a skin diver helped.
"Also, I'm tremendously buoyant. I can sit in the water and read a newspaper," she said.
Mr Younis said it was amazing that the story that was told through the years was almost exactly what the video footage revealed.
"The story was stunningly accurate," he said.
"There was plenty of commentary when we were watching the video and what really impressed us was the clear thinking of the cliff rescue squad members," he said.
"They devised a plan with just ropes and then executed that plan perfectly.
"The story of that rescue has inspired us ever since it was performed and to see how it played out was amazing.
"That's the standard that was set way back then and we still try to maintain it now."
Mr Younis said most operations were to recover bodies or injured people from isolated beaches, but very few people were ever saved from the ocean.
"We're often dealing with 150ft (50 metre) cliffs, inaccessible terrain and more often than not a surging sea," he said.
"It's a challenging environment and what those foundation members did was amazing.
"They did it all with just ropes. They didn't have the fancy harness that we have now, just ropes wrapped around their waist.
"When we watched it there was just a feeling of admiration in the room."
Mr Younis said every rescue was complex, involved a unique scenario and different challenges.
"The Port Campbell community has a long and proud history of rescue along our coast, although not without its share of tragedy," he said.
"The Port Campbell Rocket Crew was formed in the decade after the Loch Ard Shipwreck in 1878 and before the wreck of the Fiji near Moonlight Head in 1891.
"It attended the Fiji incident and the Newfield wreck in the following year and trained until after World War II."
Mr Medlin, a teacher who still volunteers at the South Australian Museum, said he was on the way to Melbourne from Adelaide filming areas of interest along the way.
He said he was highly impressed by the rescue.
"I had a pretty good idea the woman would live, especially after the tyre was thrown down her and she got a rope around her waist," he said.
"Then they got a second rope to her and the rescuers could hold her in a V. They were then able to pull her in and grabbed her."
Mr Medlin said he was delighted with the clarity of the footage after 55 years.
"I do remember the scratches on her legs and arms as the sea surged. She was a very lucky woman. It was a very memorable day.
"It's great that the film has now been digitised and the community can have access to it."
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