Kyla tells of heartbreaking effort to save drowning mum

STRUGGLING to keep her footing, exhausted from the waves smashing sideways, Kyla Lepetit was forced to make a heartbreaking decision.

Should she attempt to drag a man from the pounding surf as he lay facedown? Or wade through the water to help a woman screaming for help?

RELATED: COOLUM FAMILY'S SWIM ENDS IN TRAGIC DROWNING

The messy conditions at Marcoola, just off Boardrider Cres, worked against Mrs Lepetit as she battled to save a family from drowning.

Paramedics perform CPR on a man who was pulled from the surf unconscious at Marcoola Beach. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily
Paramedics perform CPR on a man who was pulled from the surf unconscious at Marcoola Beach. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily Brett Wortman

A 34-year-old man, his 32-year-old wife and their two girls aged 4 and 7 had headed out for a swim at the unpatrolled Marcoola beach late Tuesday afternoon.

It was a decision that would tear them apart in the most tragic circumstances.

The family, who had moved from northern New South Wales to Coolum only months ago, was not far from the shore, but the rips were strong.

The father put his life on the line to save his two daughters but drowned, despite more than half an hour of CPR from lifeguards and paramedics.

Mrs Lepetit worked with two other passers-by to save the woman and her two little girls.

"I did all I could to save them," 43-year-old Mrs Lepetit said.

Mrs Lepetit and her husband Ross were enjoying the sunset just before 5pm when the eldest girl came running toward them screaming. 

"I asked her where her parents were and she screamed and pointed to the ocean and said her mummy and daddy were in the water," Mrs Lepetit said.   

"I'll never forget, she said to me, 'You have to help my mummy and daddy and my sister before they drown and die'.   "We looked at each other and looked around.

The surf was really choppy, rough and there were rips everywhere.  

"We looked around the beach, there was no one else around, and we had no boards and no phone."  

Mr Lepetit was not a confident swimmer so Mrs Lepetit sprung into action, and ran into the surf wearing her long dress.  

She saw a man struggling in the rip with the youngest girl clinging to his neck, crying and screaming.   

He had just taken the seven-year-old to the sand and had jumped in to try to save the rest of the family.   

"I swam to him and told him I had his arm and that we would go in together, the little girl was panicking," Mrs Lepetit said.

She helped them to the sandbank to where Ross was waiting and headed back out to the rough surf where the mother was screaming for help.

Mrs Lepetit fought through the surf and became key to keeping the mother calm and focused on staying alive.

"The mum had gone further out by that point so I had to swim out to her," Mrs Lepetit said.

"She was past the breaks, she was being carried out."

"I just said to stay calm, that she was doing fine and not to fight the waves.

"There was a wave coming, she didn't see it but I did, I went under and when I came back up that's when I saw the man's body, floating face down."

Paramedics perform CPR on a man who was pulled from the surf unconscious at Marcoola Beach. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily
Paramedics perform CPR on a man who was pulled from the surf unconscious at Marcoola Beach. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily Brett Wortman

Mrs Lepetit then realised the lifeless body was the father of the two frightened little girls and the man she had helped seconds earlier was in fact a fellow rescuer.  

That was when she had to make her decision.   

The girls' mother was screaming for help in the water metres away from her.  

Mrs Lepetit fought through the surf and became key to keeping the mother calm and focused on staying alive.   

"The mum had gone further out by that point so I had to swim out to her," Mrs Lepetit said.   

"She was past the breaks, she was being carried out."    "I just said to stay calm, that she was doing fine and not to fight the waves.  

"There was a wave coming, she didn't see it but I did, I went under and when I came back up that's when I saw the man's body, floating face down.  

"I froze, I didn't know what to do, I wasn't strong enough to lift his lifeless body on my own and I knew I had to get myself out of this rip.  

"The mum was calling out for help, I swam back out and that's when the waves were coming in from the side.  

"I ended up in the undertow and it kept washing me away and I was taken out in the rip to washing machine part.  

"I thought I was going to drown myself, wave after wave, flashbacks that I was never going to see my boys again. I had no energy left."  

Mrs Lepetit's family background in lifesaving helped her keep cool in the tragic situation.

As she made it to shore exhausted, passer-by Amos Weith, who as walking his dog, saw what was happening, ran into the surf, and rescued the helpless mother.

The father, who was still floating about 100m out, was raced to shore on a jet ski, where waiting paramedics began CPR while his wife and daughters were still on the beach.

"My heart just breaks for those girls, but I am just so thankful they were safe in all of this," Mrs Lepetit said.

After giving a statement to police, she collapsed from exhaustion and distress at the beach.

I WISH I WAS THERE: I MIGHT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CHANGE THINGS: A SON'S ANGUISH 

LOGAN Lepetit decided not to go for a walk with his parents when a sunset stroll turned deadly on Tuesday. 

The 19-year-old former Sunshine Beach surf lifesaver said it broke his heart that he decided not to go with his parents to help a family drowning in a strong rip.   

"I'm so proud of both my parents for risking their own lives to save another," Logan said.   

"It's heartbreaking to us boys, especially as we usually surf out there all the time, but decided not to this afternoon. "My parents didn't take their phones so they couldn't call for any assistance, it shatters me.  

"I can't help but think if I was there I would have been given the opportunity to help change this outcome and save a life. "It breaks my heart, way too close to home.  

"Rest in peace to this fellow who tried so hard to keep his daughters alive."  


To Tenterfield with love

To Tenterfield with love

'Joy' as hay bales make it to drought belt

Art finds science in Quad

Art finds science in Quad

Arts vs science festival is set to explode

NEG means many things to many

NEG means many things to many

NEG can be an abbreviation of either negative or negligible

Local Partners