The O’Connor brothers, Joe (left) and Shane, were members of the Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue crew that rushed to South Ballina Beach on Tuesday evening in a vain effort to help save the lives of a NSW couple who drowned in the surf.
The O’Connor brothers, Joe (left) and Shane, were members of the Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue crew that rushed to South Ballina Beach on Tuesday evening in a vain effort to help save the lives of a NSW couple who drowned in the surf. Jay Cronan

Brothers fought to save mother

SHANE O’CONNOR hit the water and his training took over.

The Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue crew member and his younger brother, Joe, were part of the huge emergency response, which also included police, paramedics and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, called to South Ballina Beach on Tuesday to try to save tourists Joseph and Carole Sherry.

The couple had got into trouble in the treacherous surf behind the South Ballina Holiday Park after Mrs Sherry had gone in to save their two youngest children.

Most people wouldn’t have thought twice about going into the water behind the family-oriented resort.

When The Northern Star arrived at South Ballina Beach yesterday it was to the sight of clear gentle waves rolling in slowly from an almost still blue ocean as dolphins played behind the breakers.

Surf Life Saving NSW spokesman Scott McCartney later said the conditions were almost identical to those that would have greeted the Sherry family on Tuesday evening, before pointing out a dangerous gutter and a rip stretching across the waves.

By the time the O’Connor brothers and their fellow jet boat volunteers sped towards the beach after crossing the Richmond River, a passer-by had already pulled an unresponsive Mr Sherry from the water and paramedics were working hard to resuscitate him.

While Joe went to speak to the paramedics, the jet boat joined the rescue helicopter in its frantic search for Mrs Sherry. The helicopter crew found her first and hovered over her as the jet boat crew raced to her side, about 50 metres off the beach.

Shane jumped into the water and began the tough job of dragging the unconscious woman through the rips and strong currents towards the shore – helped by his brother who ran in from the beach.

“The surge of the water was really strong, it wasn’t easy pulling her in. There was a lot of water moving,” Joe said.

Once on shore, the brothers began the battle to revive Mrs Sherry, joined moments later by paramedics. It was a battle they lost.

“You can’t say it doesn’t effect you. There are three kids without a parent now,” Shane said yesterday.

It was a situation so dramatic, so intense, it might have overwhelmed many people, but 10 years working to save lives with the Ballina Jet Boat makes a big difference.

“You train so much to prevent loss of life. You don’t think about it, you just do what you can with what you’ve got.”

The thinking came after, when the jet boat crew sat down to debrief and discuss what they had just been through and what they had just witnessed.

The brothers said they had been offered counselling by the Ambulance Service and Surf Life Saving NSW.

After a series of media interviews yesterday, Shane and Joe, who were back at their day jobs at Ballina Shire Council and as a lifeguard at Lighthouse Beach respectively, both seemed calm when discussing the ordeal – partly because of the support they received.

“We say it’s cool to talk about it, you don’t have to be machines,” Shane said.

At the same time, the depth of the tragedy can’t help but leave a mark.

“Those kids are without parents now. That’s the really hard thing about it,” Shane said.



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