Wagin pool manager rescues entire family

19 December 2017

Jen Bannerman’s holiday in Maui took an unexpected twist earlier this year when she spotted a family stranded in Twin Falls River.

The Californian family had crossed the river in the morning when it was only ankle-deep, but when they returned later it was close to one-metre deep. The rain had filled the river and the stream was moving rapidly.

Jen – a pool manager in Wagin – realised that it would be impossible for even the strongest swimmer to make it across the river. A park officer came to help, but he was unable to cross because of the heavy stream. He threw a rope to the other side of the river to the family, who then tied it around a tree.

That’s when Jen crossed the river for the first time, using the rope as an aid to check for any alternative ways for the mother and her children to cross back to the other side. It was at this point that Jen realised the river was their only option. After assessing the conditions Jen decided to take the three children back to shore on separate trips.

“In hindsight, I think there was a better way, but at the time and with the water rising fast, it was the only thing that came to mind,” Jen explains. “At the time it also seemed the safest. I did briefly consider my safety, but to me, kids are worth more and I needed to get them across.”

It took Jen almost an hour to get the family back to shore, with the most frustrating aspect not being the rising water levels, but the number of people standing on the shore taking photos.

“People’s lives were at risk, and to film rather than help is just sad. Even if you can’t swim, offering assistance to a child after they have been pulled from a river goes a long way.”

For Jen, rescuing the family was physically and emotionally exhausting. “In a word, I was shattered! I was shaking and crying. I was able to drive the two hours back to where I was staying and then fell asleep for four hours. Even the next day, I felt as if I had no energy and I was mentally shattered.”

Royal Life Saving Society WA promotes the safe use of inland water ways with programs such as Respect the River, funded by the Federal Government. The family was very fortunate to have such an experienced and strong swimmer in the right place at the right time.

“One should always be aware of their surroundings,” Jen says. “There were signs warning of flash flooding and the likes. If it looks like it is raining on higher ground, you can guarantee that it will be reaching you shortly.”

Jen Bannerman was awarded a Gold Star Bravery Award by Royal Life Saving WA at our Annual Bravery Awards.

Do you know someone who's put their life at risk to save someone else? We'd love to hear their story! Why not nominate them for a Bravery Award at the link below.

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