Peter Anthony Meletopoulo receives Australian Bravery Decoration for life-saving act

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Greek Australian lifesaver, Peter Anthony Meletopoulo, has been awarded a Commendation for Brave Conduct (CBC) by the Governor General after he selflessly put his life in jeopardy to rescue a man from rough surf at Cronulla Beach in Sydney.

In October 2019, Peter and his fellow surf lifesaving instructor, Glenn Cairncross, were doing a water training activity session with a group of trainees at Cronulla Beach when they noticed a swimmer experiencing difficulties about 100 metres away.

Using his paddle board, Peter made his way to the distressed swimmer and assisted him to a sandbank where the man advised he could stand and make his way to shore. What happened next surprised everyone who was watching on.

“Glenn started pointing exactly back to where I’d just come from but with even more urgency. I was surprised by that and I can’t say that I was really looking forward to it because… it was really quite dangerous,” Peter tells The Greek Herald exclusively.

“I headed back there and this time I found the same person that I’d just literally rescued only minutes before. For some reason, he’d re-entered the water and he’d dived straight back in to where the rip was or he’d lost his footing and this time he was really struggling.”

Peter (left) with his fellow lifesaver, Glenn.

Peter quickly got off his board and held onto the man as they began to dive under the rough waves which were crashing against them. Despite this, the strong rip continued to push the pair closer to the wall of the ocean rock pool and Peter says he instantly became “hyper aware of the situation.”

“It was like a washing machine with these waves just breaking on top of us and the water was milky white and all foamed up. I just knew that we weren’t going to be able to get out of there, that we were headed for the rocks one way or the other,” Peter explains.

“So at this stage, I decided to turn our backs to the waves and just face the danger which was in front of us and that was the rocks and the rock pool.”

As a large set of waves approached, Peter decided to use the momentum of the waves to get the pair over the rock pool wall. Although the first attempt was unsuccessful, as the second wave hit, the distressed swimmer was deposited unharmed into the relative safety of the rock pool and was able to exit the pool unaided.

Peter was trapped between his paddle board and a pole and sustained broken ribs and a back injury.

“My team had started to run towards me by that stage… and I just saw them as I was beginning to see stars and I was literally losing consciousness,” he says.

Peter (far right) received a National Rescue of the Month Award from Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

Despite spending four days in the Acute Trauma Ward at St George Hospital, Peter stresses that he feels “no judgement” towards the man for his actions and has actually reunited with him after their ordeal.

“I think there was an error of judgment… and it didn’t pay off for him,” Peter says humbly.

“He followed up with me and I then got his name through the club and the Vice President of the club asked me whether I’d like to make contact with him and I said, ‘yes I would.’ So I phoned him and a few days later, I got out of hospital and I met him at Cronulla, only 50 or 100 metres away from where the whole rescue took place.

“I had a coffee with him and a chat and a really nice exchange with him and you know, he told me at the time he felt very bad about what happened and especially that I’d been injured. He was very grateful for being rescued.”

For Peter, it was just another day at the office and he says being awarded a CBC for his actions really was ‘surprising.’

“It’s a real honour. It’s surprising, humbling. We’re just doing what we think we should do and what we’re trained to do… If the situation was repeated, we would do exactly the same thing again,” Peter concludes, before thanking his fellow trainer Glenn and encouraging others to look into becoming surf lifesavers.

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