2 hours of terror as swift river takes mum

"I am so happy to be alive": Sonya Osten almost drowned in the Kiewa River last week. Picture: MARK JESSER
"I am so happy to be alive": Sonya Osten almost drowned in the Kiewa River last week. Picture: MARK JESSER

A TAWONGA South mother yesterday told how she saved herself from drowning in the Kiewa River by clinging to a tree branch during a terrifying two-hour ordeal.

Sonya Osten, 32, shared the tale of her near-death experience in the hope it would prevent another drowning in the region after a man was taken by the Murray River at Noreuil Park, Albury last Thursday.

“I am so happy to be alive,” Mrs Osten, a strong swimmer, said. “I didn’t think that would ever happen to me.”

Mrs Osten moved from Mackay, Queensland, last month with her husband Adam, daughter Anastasia, 8, and son Josiah, 6, after falling in love with the Mount Beauty area.

The family visited the swimming spot behind a Mount Beauty caravan park on the river last Wednesday.

“We were swimming like everyone else — children were doing it, parents,” Mrs Osten said.

But the difference on Wednesday, according to Mount Beauty’s Leading Sen-Constable Peter Johns, was that AGL energy was pumping 91 megalitres a minute — far more than normal — into the river.

The swirling torrent pulled Mrs Osten, who was on an inflatable tyre, down the river.

“The rapids kept taking me and my husband tried grabbing me, but couldn’t,” Mrs Osten said.

“I tried to get out of every calm spot and missed every one of them.”

She called out to people she passed to help her and several swimmers tried but failed to grab her.

Mrs Osten said she was tossed from her tyre, slipped on sharp, slippery rocks and was pulled under the surface.

She grabbed for the branches of trees hanging over the water near the Tawonga caravan park.

“I had no more strength in me, my tyre was gone and I was going under,” she said.

“I was thinking: ‘What am I doing to be taken so early? I’ve got my children to bring up, I’ve got a husband’.

“I thought: ‘No one is going to rescue me, no one is around and no one can save you and you’ve got to do it for yourself’.

“I reached out. I was under the water with my hand up.”

She grabbed a branch and, mustering all her strength, she wrapped her legs around it and pulled herself from the water.

“I knew I wasn’t going to stay there for long, I had to do something.”

Mrs Osten managed to pull herself ashore. She then walked through bush to the caravan park.

Her terrified husband and children were waiting with several other swimmers who had seen the incident unfold.

They contacted police who had arrived.

“Don’t do that again mummy,” daughter Anastasia told her.

Mrs Osten said she could easily have become the region’s first drowning victim of the summer and she urged swimmers to realise drowning could happen to anybody, no matter how strong a swimmer they were.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of the water,” she said.

She said she had been saved by her ability to calm herself as she was being swept along.

“Whether you’re a child or an adult, don’t panic,” she said. “Tell yourself it will be OK and slow your breathing.”

The Albury Border Rescue Squad responded to the man who drowned at Noreuil Park in Albury last Thursday.

Squad captain Stuart Dye said swimmers needed to understand how dangerous the region’s waterways were, particularly the Murray River.

“When we’re in the water, everybody should be friends,” he said.

“They should look out for each other and not be afraid to ask fellow swimmers whether they are OK.

“And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”