Heroic rescue saves life

CLOSE CALL: Leslie Cruthers and Buddha at the spot the playful pup fell into the Nogoa River.
CLOSE CALL: Leslie Cruthers and Buddha at the spot the playful pup fell into the Nogoa River. Aden Stokes

AN Emerald woman's worst thoughts were nearly realised when her husband found himself clinging for dear life to the bank of the Nogoa River.

"My wife warned me about this happening before and her worst thoughts came true I'm afraid,” local man Leslie Cruthers said.

"I had an innate sense of dread.”

At 6.30pm on Saturday, January 27, Mr Cruthers took their dog, Buddha, on his regular evening walk in the botanic gardens on the riverside track between the Nogoa River Bridge and John Gay Bridge.

It was at this time the dog went down a steep 5m bank and plunged into the river.

Unable to get itself out of the river, Mr Cruthers said the beagle was "bobbing up and down”.

To save his beloved dog, he slid down the bank into the river, holding onto a tree for support.

It was then he felt how undercut and steep it was under the water, with no ledge.

"I gave the dog a backside boost up out of the river and then tried to extricate myself, but with no upper or lower body strength, overweight, unfit and with medical problems, I couldn't manage and recognised exhaustion,” he said.

"I started yelling out for help.”

About 10 minutes later, two young women, Brenda-Lee Mather and Makayla Witchard, came down the river in a kayak and tried in vain to help Mr Cruthers onto the bank.

Ms Witchard, who recently moved back home after studying at the Hillsong International Leadership College, said she and her friend were kayaking downstream towards the Nogoa River Bridge when they saw Mr Cruthers in the river, waving his bright yellow cap and calling for help.

"I thought 'oh my goodness there is a guy in the water and he can't get out',” she said.

"We had to decide whether we both stop and help him, or do I keep kayaking down the river to get my dad to come and help.

" I didn't know what to do. I just knew that we had to get to him first to assess the situation and then from there decide to grab my dad or call for the ambulance.”

Ms Mather said she wondered "how on earth” they were going to help him.

"We had no idea how we were going to get him out, let alone if anyone was going to come across us trying to help him get out,” she said.

The pair soon realised they were not strong enough to help him out of the river and onto the bank, so Ms Witchard went to get her dad, leaving Ms Mather with Mr Cruthers.

"I tried to make sure he kept his head above the water and didn't lose his grip on the tree,” Ms Mather said.

"We tried to find a better spot to get him out of the water while we were waiting, and stopped his dog from jumping back into the river.”

She said she never in her wildest dreams imagined she would be in this situation.

"It was something I had never had to do before, so it was quite a surreal feeling, but it felt good to be able to help somebody out of a really bad situation.

"I hope that if I am ever in that situation, somebody would do the same for me.”

Ms Witchard's father, Scott Witchard, came up the river with two kayaks and tried to help Mr Cruthers out of the river, but it was still too big a job. The girls then went to call an ambulance for assistance.

Just on nightfall, Peter Verbuyst came running along and heard the commotion.

Mr Cruthers said it was the extra pair of hands they needed. "With four people and kayaks, they calmly got me out of the water then up the very steep bank.”

Ms Witchard said the experience had made her humble and appreciative of life.

"I never thought that I would move back home again and then be saving a guy out of a river with a kayak,” she said.

"My parents brought me up that if you can help in any way, to help, and we were pretty much his only hope to get out of there.

"If you were in that situation, you would want somebody to help you.

"If we hadn't have been there, who knows what would have happened to Leslie.”

Mr Cruthers wanted to thank all those who helped save his life, and to warn people to be careful near the river edge.

Topics:  emerald nogoa river rescue

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