NATHAN Franks had never seen anything like the limp, lifeless body of the 14-year-old boy he dragged to the shore of the Murrumbidgee River on Monday.
Swimming three quarters of the way across the river to reach the boy, who had become caught in the fast-moving current, Mr Franks thought even he was done for as he struggled to shoulder the weight of the boy while fighting his way back to the river bank.
Joined by two others from neighbouring villas at the Wagga Beach Caravan Park, the heroic three-man rescue saw the boy escape death by just seconds.
Jennifer Laird and Andrew Ibbott of Deniliquin had just checked into their villa at the Wagga Beach Caravan Park about 3.30pm when they heard a young boy screaming for help.
Looking out over their balcony, four teenagers - two boys and two girls - were being swept around the bend of the river, from the rocks, behind the Tourist Information Centre.
But when Ms Laird called out to ask if they needed help, she said that the two girls told them the boys were only joking.
“We couldn’t tell if they were being serious or not,” Ms Laird said.
But as the young boy in trouble started to struggle violently to stay above water, it became evident they were not mucking around.
Ms Laird said the boy’s friend became aggressive, screaming profanity to further raise the alarm.
With their six-year-old daughter, Sarah, in tow, they raced along the fence line of the caravan park, looking for the first breakpoint to access the river.
Thirty-four-year-old Nathan Franks of Albury, who was staying a few caravans up, was catching up with his work mates when he noticed the boys in the river.
By this point it is believed the girls had got out of the river and the boy’s male friend was also clambering to the bank.
Mr Franks said he didn’t realise anything was wrong at first, until he looked closer and saw that the boy was barely able to keep afloat, slipping in and out of view.
Despite never having done any formal lifesaving or having much experience with the river Mr Franks’ instincts took over.
“I bolted down there and kicked off the thongs and sunnies,” he said.
“He was pretty pale; it was pretty cold out there.”
He said that by the time he reached the boy, the boy’s body was limp and he was unable to swim or even help keep himself afloat.
Struggling to support himself and the boy, Mr Franks said he could feel his body giving out as a second rescuer, an unidentified man staying next door to Jennifer and Andrew, met him halfway and helped tow the boy.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get him back to shore without the other bloke,” Mr Franks said.
Mr Ibbott, who had been waiting a few metres downstream to catch the men as the current pushed them along, then helped bring the boy to shore.
Laying him into the recovery position, Ms Laird said he took a series of short sharp breaths, brining up water as they waited for paramedics to arrive.
“When the other guys dragged him in, he was only 30 metres from the beach,” Mr Ibbott said.
“(But) he wouldn’t have made it to the beach.
“He was exhausted.
“There is no way he would have been able to sit up.”
While Ms Laird described the boy as oxygen-deprived, Mr Franks said that he had never seen anything like what the boy looked like when he was pulled from the water.
Four paramedics and a supervisor attended the scene just after 4.01pm.
The boy was reported to have swallowed a large amount of water.
He was taken to hospital in a serious but stable condition.