Police praise Ipswich hero for rescuing family stranded in river

Saving lives is nothing new for Ipswich construction manager Craig Mc Phillips, but receiving a Queensland Police Bravery Medal is.

Mr Mc Phillips helped to rescue a family of five who were clinging to their overturned boat in the Mary River near Maryborough last year.

His, and the efforts of two other people involved in the rescue, were recognised when Mr Mc Phillips received a Queensland Police Bravery Medal award at a ceremony in Hervey Bay.

Interestingly, that is not the first time Mr Mc Phillips had put his own life at risk to save another.

“I’ve pulled a couple of people out of the ocean over the years,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

Mr Mc Phillips is a strong swimmer.

“I was at the Marcoola surf club having a few drinks when the receptionist came over and asked if I would mind having a look out the front, as they had reports someone was drowning,” he said.

It was winter at the time so there were no patrols.

The receptionist called Mudjimba Surf Life Saving Club and asked them to send a jet ski to help.

“I knew someone would be coming to help assist so I swam out some distance to him, as he had been taken out to sea by a rip,” Mr Mc Phillips said.

“He was a German tourist in his 50s who did not speak English.

“He was unconscious when I arrived so I was supporting his head above water.

“Then he came to and started thrashing about in a panic.

“I calmed him down, kept his head above water and reassured him it would be okay.”

Shortly after two lifesavers arrived, put him onto the rescue board and the jet ski towed him into the beach where an ambulance was waiting.

Mr Mc Phillips found out later that he was released from hospital the following day.

The next time Mr Mc Phillips found himself an unlikely hero, was when he was at the beach, again at Marcoola, where he lived at the time.

“A young girl, maybe 12 or 13 had just been caught in a rip,” Mr Mc Phillips said.

The girl was outside the flagged area and Mr Mc Phillips could see she was starting to panic.

“Her family were there but they were not confident swimmers, she could also swim but just got a bit startled by the power of the rip,” he said.

“I just swam out and pulled her back into the beach.”

Mr Mc Phillips said he didn’t feel like he had done anything out of the ordinary.

Bruce Holla, Constable Drew Harold and Craig Mc Phillips receiving the Queensland Police Bravery Medal. 

Last year, he found himself in this extraordinary situation yet again, this time while driving over the Mary River.

He was on a work trip and as he drove over the bridge, he noticed people in the river.

Mr Mc Phillips didn’t think twice.

“I thought it was a bit unusual to be swimming there,” he said.

“It was purely a gut feeling that something is not right.

“I turned around to have a bit of a look and noticed there was a family in the water.”

A few people were gathered on the back watching so Mr Mc Phillips, said to another man standing there ‘let’s jump in and help these guys out’.

“I yelled out to them to stay calm and we called the emergency services. The policeman arrived shortly after.

“The three of us jumped in and swam through a fairly fast current about 50 metres to the capsized tinny.”

Mr Mc Phillips remembers having to pass under a warning sign for salt water crocodiles as he entered the water.

“In the back of my mind I thought there is probably not going to be too many in the Mary River,” he said.

When Mr Mc Phillips reached the family he saw there was an elderly lady, a man and three children under seven all clinging to the small part of the boat that was still above the water.

Mr Mc Phillips himself has a family of his own, wife Nicole and three sons.

According to Royal Life Saving, each year about five people lose their lives while attempting to rescue someone in trouble.

“You don’t think about that, you just jump in and do what you’ve got to do. It was simply a matter of going out and dragging them back in,” he said.

The three rescuers then worked together to drag the boat back to the shore.

The group of people on the bank helped them out of the water as the rescuers passed the children over the boat to their waiting outstretched hands.

“I made sure everyone was okay, then got back in the car and headed off to work,” Mr Mc Phillips said.

Mr Mc Phillips credits his time in the nippers as a child for his rescue skills and his confidence in the water from all the swimming he did at Ipswich Grammar School.

“It was nice to be recognised by the Queensland Police Service but when the notification came for the award ceremony, I actually had to think back to what it was for,” he said. 

Read about Ipswich residents' great achievements

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