Last December, Irina Wallace was enjoying a family holiday on the Gold Coast when a trip to the beach nearly ended in tragedy.
The New Zealand resident was wading in waist-deep water near Burleigh when, without warning, she was knocked over by a large wave and dragged out to sea in a strong and dangerous rip.
Irina desperately struggled to keep her head above water, getting more and more exhausted as she was dragged further away from shore.
“After swimming for 30 seconds to a minute, I realised instead of getting closer to shore I was getting further away. I thought this might be the end of my life, and I didn’t want to die,” she said.
That’s when she heard the sounds of Surf Life Saving Queensland’s Westpac Helicopter approaching.
Helicopter rescue crewman Tim Wilson remembers spotting Irina battling the surf below, immediately recognising that she was in significant trouble.
“We could see her trying to breaststroke in quite a big rip and she was getting pulled out very quickly; we knew straight away just by looking at her that she was in a pretty bad way,” he said.
“As I hit the water, a couple of waves came crashing over her and, in my head, I thought if I don’t grab her straight away she’s going to get pushed under.
“I knew that I’d do everything that I could to save her, even if I had to unhook myself from the helicopter to get to her quicker. We were hoisted up and the look on her face just said it all.”
After returning her to the beach and to the safety of lifeguards on shore, the Westpac Helicopter flew away and continued its patrol, meaning Irina has never had the opportunity to thank Tim face-to-face for his lifesaving actions.
On Friday, Irina and Tim were reunited for the very first time, giving her an opportunity to thank the man who quite literally saved her life.
Importantly, Irina’s story is one of many from the past 41 years, with the Westpac Helicopter having performed more than 850 rescues since its inception in 1971.
Show your support and help raise vital funds for the Westpac Helicopter by attending the 2017 Heli Lunch on October 27 – tickets on sale now at westpacheliqld.com.au.