SEVENTEEN teenage students and a teacher rescued from the Blackwood River near Augusta on Wednesday had all the necessary safety equipment but failed to take sufficient notice of the weather.
That is the view of Augusta Sea Seach and Rescue commander Marty Graco, who headed the rescue effort.
The students and teacher, from MacKillop Catholic College in Busselton, were wearing life jackets and had a waterproof mobile phone with them which they used to raise the alarm after two of the nine canoes capsized in a wind and rain squall at the northern end of Hardy Inlet about 12.30pm.
“They had all the safety equipment with them, they just needed to take a bit more notice of the weather conditions,” Mr Graco said. “It was freezing cold, raining and the wind was coming straight up the inlet.
“It blew some of them over, then blew them to the bank (on the north side of West Bay),” he said.
Mr Graco said the group got into trouble as it entered open water from the river channel.
He sent Augusta’s main rescue boat out while he contacted police, ambulance and the local Red Cross branch which organised blankets and a change of dry clothes for the students, aged 15-16, and the teacher.
The rescue boat collected students and teacher who were huddled in three groups on the bank, he said. The smaller Sea Search and Rescue Zodiac later retrieved their Canadian canoes.
Sergeant Matt Leishman of Augusta Police said the teacher used a mobile phone to contact the driver of a support vehicle waiting for them at Augusta.
The driver souht help from a shopkeeper who contacted Sea Search and Rescue, Sgt Leishman said.
An ambulance and a fleet of vehicles took the students and teacher to Augusta Hospital where three students were treated for mild hypothermia and one for an asthma-related condition before being released at 3pm.
Sgt Leishman said the group had stayed at a caravan park near Molloy Island and were attempting to paddle from there to Augusta.
MacKillop principal Chris Wallace said the incident occurred on the final day of the students’ three-day camp and there would be no lasting effects.
“It was a freak accident, we were following our risk-management plan and we are fortunate to have qualified staff. It was more precautionary than anything else, all students were released from hospital without issue and a large amount of them are back at school today (Thursday).”
He also said it would not affect the college's ability to run similar camps in future.
“The camps are very popular and the feedback I have received is that parents would be more worried if we didn’t continue with them.
“The students acted brilliantly, the camp was at the end of a semester’s training in the course and they responded with what they had learnt well.”
After the rescue a police spokesperson praised the community effort.
“The initial response from the local sea rescue volunteers can only be commended. They were faced with quite a situation and were able to bring all 18 people to the jetty safely,” the spokesperson said.
“The support provided to get all the students to the hospital was also appreciated, and the hospital did a great job to get through checking such a large group that attended.
“At the end of the day, all the emergency responders worked really well together to make sure the best possible response and care was provided.”