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Flood hero speaks out at inquiry

The intersection of James and Kitchener Sts where Donna and Jordan Rice were swept to their deaths in January’s flash flood.
The intersection of James and Kitchener Sts where Donna and Jordan Rice were swept to their deaths in January’s flash flood. Adam Davies

A MODEST flood hero has for the first time publicly relived the moments when a desperate rescue attempt tragically fell short.

Toowoomba's Chris Skehan was one of three people who attempted to rescue the Rice family from raging flood waters at the intersection of James and Kitchener Sts on January 10.

In his statement to the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, Mr Skehan described how he arrived at the intersection and noticed a white sedan trapped in the raging torrent with “water up to the bonnet”.

Another man, later identified as Warren McErlean, had already tied a rope to himself and was attempting to get to the sedan.

Mr Skehan said he could see a woman and a child — later revealed to be Donna and Jordan Rice — in the vehicle.

He tied a rope around himself and attempted to make his way through the knee-high water.

“I couldn't hear much of what anyone was saying to me because of the rain and the water, however I remember the lady yelling something like ‘take Blake first',” Mr Skehan said in his statement.

“At this time, a young boy who appeared to be nine or 10 years old came to the driver's door where I was standing and I put him on my back and piggy-backed him.”

The child, Blake Rice, was handed to Mr McErlean, who was waiting at nearby traffic lights.

Mr Skehan looked back at the car and saw Ms Rice and Jordan standing on the door ledge, “one at the front and one at the back”.

He made his way back into the water and to the car where “the young boy almost jumped on me”.

“All of a sudden I felt the white sedan starting to move in the current,” Mr Skehan said.

Mr Skehan said the vehicle continued to move and the rope broke.

At that moment, Ms Rice and Jordan were knocked off the car and into the water.

They were swept downstream where they managed to grab hold of a light pole.

“I then saw the lady lose grip of the pole and get swept downstream,” Mr Skehan said.

“I saw her heading towards a tree with hanging branches.

“She disappeared under the tree and I did not see her again.

“Almost immediately after, the boy lost his grip of the light pole and got swept downstream as well. I did not see the boy again.”


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