'I would've been planning her funeral if it wasn't for you'
A STROLL along the foreshore of Ballina's North Creek took a confronting turn for Josh Ross, when he saw a naked woman getting swept out to sea.
It was just after 3pm on Monday afternoon and, an hour before, 29-year-old Jodie Patterson, who has Down Syndrome, had been reported missing to police after escaping her carer at Biala Day Program on Tamar St.
As it turns out, she had decided to go to the beach near Meldrum Park.
Josh, 21, noticed Jodie playing on a sandbank and didn't think anything of it, but when he turned around again, he saw a naked Jodie wading out into the water.
"She had already walked about 100m out and was already close to the buoys," Josh said.
"The water was up to her shoulders, but it was coming in quickly.
"Because she was naked I felt weird going in to save her, so I asked my partner if I should go in."
At a loss, Josh ran to ask another other lady who was watching, but she said no because she was fully clothed.
"I just jumped in off the wall, walked across the oysters, got her and started walking her back towards the shore," he said.
"It was a strong current and it was freezing. She kept saying she couldn't swim."
Josh was about halfway to the shore when Sherrie McCarter, 47, jumped in to help.
"I had rung the police when I saw him in the water with her," Sherrie said.
"But I didn't feel right, you could see he wasn't comfortable, so I jumped in, fully clothed, to help."
Sherrie took over from there, dressing and comforting a shivering Jodie.
"It just wasn't a situation for a young man to be in," Ms McCarter said.
"If we didn't get to her when we did, we wouldn't have been able to get to her, the water was rising so quickly."
They both agreed that if they weren't there, no one else would have saved her.
"There were people around but no one was doing anything," Ms McCarter said.
'We didn't think, we just acted."
Wrapping her arms around her daughter's rescuers on the shore of North Creek, Trish Mills whispered: "I would have been planning Jodie's funeral if it wasn't for you, thank you."
"I was sick to my stomach when I found out," she said.
"All of the 'what ifs' came into my mind. I didn't know the full story but I just cried all night because I just knew they had saved her life.
"They are very special human beings - not everyone would have done the same."
While Jodie is a good swimmer in a pool, Trish said she would have been helpless in the strong current.
"If they hadn't have helped her, she would have been swept out to sea and would have drowned - no doubt in my mind," Ms Mills said.
Escaping her carer was something Jodie had done before, and Ms Mills put it down to her curious nature and wanting more freedom.
"She is so heavily monitored with her type 1 diabetes she wants to break free," she said.
"Afterwards, Jodie was blasé because she doesn't understand consequences.
"It was a spur of the moment thing, she's done it before, but we've never seen her take her clothes off in public.
"Part of having Down Syndrome is having a lack of fear or consequences. She has a cold now and her asthma has flared up, because the water was so cold."
Ms Mills said she didn't blame Biala Services for what happened.
"Jodie's carer has been looking after her for about 18 months, they do an awesome job," she said.
"Biala have now put sensors at the front and back doors of the building as a precaution."