News

Swift water rescuer recounts amazing tale of saving couple

Firefighter Matt Foster and his wife Julie-Anne and son Samual.
Firefighter Matt Foster and his wife Julie-Anne and son Samual. John McCutcheon

HOLD your breath. Get back in the boat. Save them. Get home safely to your wife and kids.

These are the words repeating in Matthew Foster's mind as he is thrown around like a rag doll in the 70kmh torrents of the flooded Widgee Creek outside Gympie.

The Maroochydore swift water rescuer and his team mate Denis Donadel have just been flung from their inflatable rubber boat, the Ark Angel.

Horizontal rain is blinding them, rapids swirl around them and debris keeps slamming into their torsos.

In a flash of adrenalin Matthew, 43, and Denis, 50, manage to make their way back into the boat for a few fleeting moments.

Just metres away, a husband and wife cling for their lives to trees in the middle of the heaving creek.

An hour earlier the couple were attempting to drive through a flooded crossing. They fled their van when it stalled, partly submerged.

It would later emerge during an incredible five hour rescue mission the couple's son, a 27-year-old with cerebral palsy and physical disabilities, was ripped away from his parents' grip.

How it unfolded...

Emergency services received a triple 000 call in the early hours of Sunday, January 27.

Matthew and Denis were the second swift water rescue crew on scene, about 5am.

Another Maroochydore team, on temporary deployment from Brisbane, arrived about two hours later with four level-two swift water technicians. Their Gympie colleagues, level two technicians Grant Feeney and Tony Wildman, had arrived in darkness about 4.30am.

The only thing they heard above the rapids was a woman yelling, "Help me, help us."

Several rescue attempts were made in the treacherous conditions.

Water rising fast

As day breaks rescuers focus their attention to the woman clinging to a tree 40m from the broken creek bed.

Water is rushing over her shoulders and she is in serious danger of being swept downstream.

"It was pouring rain and the water had already risen 1.5m throughout the incident," Matthew said. "The conditions were so dangerous; I have never seen anything so ferocious.

"In the first attempt we got within two metres of her when a log came and hit the boat.

"We were tossed out, trapped under.

"It was the closest I have been to seeing what's on the flip side but my concern in that moment was my crewman Denis and getting back to safety."

Rescuing the husband

As conditions worsen, the boat flips again and the decision is made to let it go. The rescuers are now 10 metres below the husband.

Gripping hold of the trees, they edge close enough to fit him with a life jacket.

The husband yells "save my wife, I already lost my son, save my wife."

Matthew estimates the water to be flowing at an approximate depth of 4.2m where the men remain trapped.

Lines were thrown midstream to Denis and Matthew by rescuers Grant and Tony which was an integral part of the life saving mission.

This allowed the husband to be taken to safety. Those lines were used to gain access to the wife.

Saving the wife

The team's strategic effort turns to the man's wife, who has been clinging to the same tree for three hours.

She is struggling to hold her breath as the rapids churn around her from every angle.

"Water was going over her head," Matthew said.

"I don't know how she had the strength to do it. She kept hold of the tree under instruction from Denis - it was inspirational.

"At one point a massive tree fell 10m in front of her, creating a barrier between her and the torrent.

"It pretty much saved her life because it gave her some strength to keep holding on and gave the rescuers more time.

Getting them through

Matthew said the efforts of Denis and Grant to get the woman in the Ark Angel were an incredible feat in the dangerous circumstances.

"All rescuers at the incident should very proud of their efforts and action," he said

"Without the skills, courage and knowledge of all on scene, who put themselves in personal danger, it could have a different outcome."

Matthew said if it wasn't for the support of family, especially his wife Julie-Anne and his kids, Kristy, Dylan and Sam, the job would be a lot harder to deal with.

"They are the ones that are the most important and you want to come home every night to be with them," he said.

The fire-fighters reached the woman five hours after the rescue mission began.

"We were all battered and bruised and exhausted, but we felt rewarded to have been able to save these two people," he said. "Working with the fire-fighters was inspirational and the most rewarding job I have ever been involved in.

"We saved two lives that day."

If it is flooded forget it

Matthew said the incident highlighted that all fire-fighters put themselves in dangerous situations.

"We take calculated risks to save others," he said.

"It gives you pride to be part of a great organisation with the skills, courage, dedication and mateship of fire-fighters right across Queensland to perform rescues throughout the state in dire times."

The body of the couple's son was found by a resident the following day. It was 300m from the crossing.

Additional reporting Kate Clifford

Topics:  editors picks flood flooding floods floodwaters gympie rescue



Date nights under $50

ACCORDING to The Bachelor falling in love involves helicopter rides, private jets, shopping trips, and we mustn’t forget the hot tubs.

Brisbane's arts and culture events centre stage

You loved the film, now you're about to love the musical. Don't miss The Bodyguard The Musical in Brisbane this July.

THE arts and culture events you don't want to miss.

Homewares stores to fulfil your Instagram dreams

No Caption

You too can become an Insta-star with these fab stores.

Top 10 Brisbane experiences to cross off your bucket list

Do yourself a favour and get amongst the food truck scene. Eat Street is a great place to start.

A GOOD bucket list doesn’t have to span continents or cost millions.

Six mega sporting events you need to be at this year

Don't miss all the action trackside this season.

IF THERE is one thing Brisbane does damn well, it’s play host.

Six reasons to get to Brisbane this Autumn

The Brisbane Powerhouse has free comedy on Friday nights.

AUTUMN has to be up there with one of the best seasons of the year.

The best things to do in Brisbane are FREE. Yes, FREE

Mt Coot-tha is a seriously gorgeous way to start your day.

HEADING to the big smoke doesn’t have to come with a big price tag.

Dreamworld may supersize with 'Disneyland expansion'

Dreamworld could become a “more attractive and entertaining park”.

Tweed Midwives Group Practice celebrate their first baby

HAPPY FAMILY: Jamie and Nathan Millard with their new baby, Emme and her big sister Pippa.

The Tweed Midwifery Group Practice have welcomed its first baby.

Local Partners

Dreamworld may supersize with 'Disneyland expansion'

OWNERS of icon Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld want to super-size the site with accommodation and entertainment to turn it into Australia’s Disneyland.

World’s strongest man reveals incredible 12,000 calorie diet

Brian Shaw won his 4th World's Strongest Man title. Source: Twitter

World’s strongest man reveals incredible 12,000-calorie diet

ABC2 slammed over football exhibition match coverage

Fans weren't too happy with ABC2's coverage of Wednesday night's game.

ABC2 slammed for coverage of soccer exhibition match

'Bulls--t!' Lisa Wilkinson grilled over Karl's pay packet

Join us for a Great Night as we Proudly present Lisa Wilkinson

“And you believe everything you read?”

Rebel Wilson trial: The secret we never could have known

Rebel Wilson outside court

“Most people wouldn’t know it exists,” she said.

Janet’s back in the ring

Marta Dusseldorp returns in season three of the TV series Janet King.

Season three of ABC's legal drama delves deeper than ever before.

How Toowoomba house prices compare in Australia

For sale sign in front of home.

Here's what $700,000 will buy you in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Sydney

One of Maryborough's most historic homes is still for sale

FULL OF HISTORY: Trisha Moulds is owner of the historic Tinana state known as Rosehill. The beautiful home is currently for sale.

It has been the scene of both joy and tragedies over the years.

The face of the Sunshine Coast's overpriced rental crisis

Alyx Wilson had to rent a $385 unit in Currimundi because the market was too competitive for cheaper rental housing. She is now renting a room from friends who own a house in Currimundi, and says its much more affordable.

Young people feel the strain in competitive, expensive rental market

WATCH: Take a tour of a tradie's dream home

5a Bruce Hiskens Court, Norman Gardens, going for $720,000. INSET: Lea Taylor.

Huge block with potential for anything

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!