Mum thanks the heroes who saved her son

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianMidwest Times
CJ Leder, 10, was swept 50 metres out to sea in a rip off Geraldton's Back Beach on Sunday, February 21 2021.
Camera IconCJ Leder, 10, was swept 50 metres out to sea in a rip off Geraldton's Back Beach on Sunday, February 21 2021. Credit: Supplied

A Geraldton mother who watched on helplessly as her 10-year-old son was quickly dragged away in a dangerous rip at Back Beach has recalled the awful feeling of thinking her boy was “gone”.

But Kirsty Abbott credited the heroic actions of two surf lifesavers — who had finished their patrol and would not have been at the beach if not for a case of lost keys — for saving her child’s life. She also thanked her brother-in-law, who was caught in the rip and helped too.

Her son, Christian “CJ” Leder’s close shave happened while bodyboarding with his uncle, Danny Stokes, and cousin, Hunter, on Sunday.

The trio were in waist-deep water about 12.15pm when Mr Stokes noticed a change in the water, Ms Abbott said.

“He paddled over and said ‘we’d better head in, it’s changing’,” she said.

“CJ said ‘OK’ and he pushed his little cousin on the bodyboard and Danny turned and tried to put CJ on his board and he got dumped.

‘In the space of five seconds, they were out 50 metres in the rip.”

Ms Abbott had been sitting on the beach and did not notice anything until she saw her brother-in-law’s hand in the air and heard him whistle as a sign of distress. “I could see CJ was a good 10m from him and I thought ‘oh my God, it’s my worst nightmare’,” she said. “I ran to the jet ski at the surf lifesaving club and said ‘my son is out there’.”

Ms Abbott said her son “handled it like a champ”.

“I could hear him screaming from the beach. I thought he was gone, but they got him,” she said.

“That is how quickly things can change in a matter of seconds from having fun to life and death.

“Everything went in slow motion but I owe the surf lifesaving club so much and, of course, I owe my brother-in-law so much; he chose to stay there copping a beating. He said if it was another minute, he would have been gone.”

In an “incredible act of heroism”, Geraldton surf lifesavers Jim Plunkett and Joe Reilly rescued two people in succession, according to club president Sally McKenzie. She said the lifesavers had finished their patrol in which Mr Plunkett had rescued a woman.

They delayed packing up the jet ski to help someone find his missing car keys when the alarm was raised.

Mr Reilly said credit ought to go to Mr Plunkett, who then took the jet ski out to rescue CJ. “I guess we were lucky again; the jet ski was already unloaded from the second rescue,” Mr Reilly said. Mr Plunkett told Ms Abbott they were just glad they were there to help.

“The little fella did an amazing job fighting against that surf. I’m just glad he is safe,” he said.

Ms Abbott hopes her family’s close call will remind people not to be complacent in the water.

“Just keep an eye on the conditions; they can just change so quickly and if you think something’s not right, everybody should get out of the water,” she said.

Ms McKenzie said volunteer surf lifesavers were needed. “You don’t have to be an expert at everything ... we teach you everything,” she said. “You don’t have to be an ace swimmer.”

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