Lives saved at popular spot
A Blenheim woman felt like she was looking into the eyes of a dead man as she struggled to save two men from drowning in a swimming spot near Pelorus Bridge.
Libbie Tautari's friend Nathan Devaraj had got into trouble and panicked even more when their friend Craig Mackle tried to help him.
Miss Tautari looked up from the shore where she was with four children and a 20-year-old to see the pair struggling in the water.
She could see that Mr Devaraj was almost pulling Mr Mackle under.
Miss Tautari swam out and managed to pull Mr Devaraj's arm off Mr Mackle, but Mr Mackle kept going down.
Mr Devaraj grabbed her arm and pulled her down about four times.
"Every time we bobbed up I could see my kids on the rocks just looking at us," Miss Tautari said.
After about two minutes of struggling, she broke free of Mr Devaraj's grip and was able to grab Mr Mackle and try to pull him toward the rocks.
She could not help Mr Devaraj, but could see his face.
"That look . . . was really intense. I thought, ‘oh my God, I'm going to have to let you drown', because we couldn't do anything."
Although she is not religious, she asked God for help as the three of them struggled to stay afloat.
"I was looking into the eyes of a dead man and I think Nathan realised that too and there's nothing we could have done."
Both Mr Mackle and Miss Tautari do not remember exactly how they reached the safety of a rock.
At some point Mr Mackle managed to hook his arm under Mr Devaraj and use his other arm to swim, but they would only go so far before being pulled under again.
He said: "I remember just pushing and pushing at his back, and Libbie must have been up the front."
The friends were members of three families who had been enjoying a hot day near the Pelorus Bridge Campground on Saturday when they decided to take the children swimming.
They went to a little-known swimming spot about 2 kilometres from Pelorus Bridge towards Nelson.
Mr Mackle swam about 15 metres to the other side of the river and Mr Devaraj decided to do the same.
He was not a strong swimmer and was a little worried about the depth of the water.
"I was afraid of swimming in that place, it was really deep," he said. "Then I saw Craig and I thought I should be able to do that."
"It was good and then suddenly everything just goes numb and I can't breathe," he said.
Mr Devaraj does not remember anything after going under for the first time, and once they were safe he asked the others not to say anything until he could tell his wife.
His wife, Shan Kalymutu and Mr Mackle's partner, Karen McCarthy, knew something had happened when they arrived back at the campground.
Miss McCarthy said: "Libbie's eyes were bloodshot, Craig was white as a ghost, Nathan's left side was limp, and my kids were very quiet."
Miss Tautari said she kept looking at Mr Devaraj to make sure he was okay. "He saw his baby and he started crying. That just about set us all off."
Mr Devaraj's wife said she thanked God and was eternally grateful for the actions of both Miss Tautari and Mr Mackle.
"If you are not here, my husband is not here today," she said. "I have got no siblings; he is my only family. So I am thanking them sincerely, from my daughter as well."
Miss Tautari said she did what anyone else would have done. "I don't think we're heroes."
- The Marlborough Express