Two young swimmers have told how they thought they would die after being swept out to sea at North Wollongong beach.
Zohal Hesan, 15, and 11-year-old Samim Abadi say they owe their lives to the off-duty surf lifesavers who rushed to their aid on December 18.
On Saturday, their first visit back to the beach where the rescue unfolded, the youngsters had the chance to thank some of those lifesavers.
“[I’m] really grateful because I would be dead if it wasn’t for them. I owe them my life,” Zohal, from Hurstville, said.
The North Wollongong lifesavers were at a post-patrol Christmas function in their nearby clubhouse when the pair got into trouble about 6.15pm.
The flags had been pulled from the sand 15 minutes earlier.
It was the screams of Samim’s mother, Fariha Hamid, which alerted two of the club’s Nippers to the children in trouble.
The Nippers – Laiken Turner, 11, and Summah Arnold, 7 – ran inside from the clubhouse balcony and alerted other club members.
An emergency response from about 10 lifesavers followed. By the time they got to Samim and Zohal they were 200 metres from shore.
I thought I was going to die
“I just remember walking and then just taking a step and then I just couldn’t touch the [ocean] floor,” Samim, from Sefton, said.
“I tried to swim out but the more I tried to swim the further I went. I got so far that I could barely see my mum [on the beach].
“The waves were coming over everywhere and I kept swallowing water.”
Samim said Zohal, who is a family friend, helped keep him above the water.
“I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for Zohal,” he said.
The timing of the incident wasn’t lost on Zohal’s mum, Najia Hesan, who said after-hour rescues were “not part of their job”.
“It was a happy ending, I’m very grateful,” Ms Hesan said. “Because of them [lifesavers] I [have] got my daughter.”
“They acted quickly, they just jumped in the water.”
I ALMOST WENT AFTER THEM: MUM
Ms Hamid said she made a last-minute decision not to go in after the pair amid fears she, too, would get into trouble.
“I was planning to go after them,” she said.
“I went a few steps and I said ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? If I go the three of us could go and never come back’.”
Ms Hamid had her phone in her hand at the time and called Triple-0.
“I was the only person there [on the beach] and they disappeared,” she said.