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Police officer to be recommended for bravery award after Lachlan River flood rescue of two boys

Sunday November 21, 2021 - 12:12 AEDT
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A NSW Police officer will be recommended for a bravery award for saving the lives of two teenagers in a flooded inland river. - ABC

Two boys are lucky to be alive after they were swept away by floodwaters in the NSW central west.

Police say the 11-year-olds jumped into the flooded Lachlan River at Condobolin, about 450 kilometres west of Sydney, on Saturday afternoon.

The fast-moving current swept them downstream for about 60 metres, before they were able to grab hold of a rope attached to an exposed log in the middle of the river.

They clung there while campers from a nearby caravan park called emergency services to the scene.

The boys yelled out they could not hold on any longer, so local police officer Sergeant Joel Hunter put on a lifejacket, grabbed a flotation device and swam out to them.

Sergeant Hunter said the first thing he noticed when he arrived at the scene was how quickly the current was flowing and knew immediately he had to get the boys out.

"They were obviously getting fatigued holding onto that rope and being dragged," he said.

"First thing I looked for, we needed a flotation device, so originally I thought I would get a surfboard from home and paddle out to get them but would have been five minutes away."

'Timed it perfectly' 

Luckily at that moment, just after 4:00pm, the State Emergency Service (SES) arrived with the necessary equipment.

"I stripped down all my clothes off to my undies and chucked the life jacket on ... I went 10 to 15 metres upstream and managed to time it perfectly and swam out to them one by one," he said.

"I rescued one of the boys, grabbed them and floated downstream 30 metres or so to shore, other emergency personnel took him, then got back out, went back upstream to the same sort of spot and rescued the other 11-year-old male."

Both boys were brought safely back to the riverbank where they were checked over by paramedics.

They were safely returned to their parents.

Local SES unit commander Susan Bennett was with her crew at the depot after a day of sandbagging in preparation for floodwaters to arrive.

"They could have ended up at the bottom of a weir downstream, they could have ended up miles away and nobody would have known where they were," she said.

"When you join a rescue team it's not always a good outcome, and yesterday was one of those rare opportunities we had to rejoice."

Ms Bennett said the two boys were "very, very lucky to be with us today".

The incredible rescue will see Sergeant Hunter recommended for a bravery award, said Central West Police District Chief Inspector Peter Atkins.

He called the action "heroic", and said "the outcome could have been tragic".

Ms Bennett agreed.

"I believe Sergeant Hunter's actions were above and beyond what would normally be expected of an on-duty policeman. There was no hesitation from him to enter that water," she said.

Flood watches remain in place

It comes as floodwaters on the Lachlan River continue to move downstream, with the level at Forbes slowly dropping.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said major flooding was now occurring at Cottons Weir and Jemalong.

The BOM expects the peak to reach Condobolin later this week, with moderate flooding likely.

Flood watches remain in place for a number of rivers across New South Wales, including on the mid-north coast, north-western and central inland regions.

Farmland has copped the brunt of the damage from this disaster, with crops like wheat and barley ready for harvest but slowly being inundated by water instead.

Even areas not at risk from floodwater are struggling with the wet weather.

The Mayor of the Lachlan Shire Council, John Medcalf, said local farmers were racing to get crops stripped before more rain or flooding hits the region.

"They're trying to get contractors in or whatever they can do to get in there and get these crops off before the water comes down," he said.

"Once the water does come down it's going to be around for quite a while, they're talking even up to Christmas time, so that will be the end of [farmers'] income for this year."


© ABC 2021

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