Deane O'Connor - Hero of the Week | The Jackal

17 Aug 2013

Deane O'Connor - Hero of the Week

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

The Tauranga police officer who is being hailed a hero for a saving the life of a crash victim this week has described his instinct-driven decision to dive from a bridge into cold waters.

Constable Deane O'Connor's actions after a van was shunted off Tauranga's Maungatapu Bridge on Monday night are thought to have saved the life of a passenger who managed to free himself from the van.

In a statement released this afternoon, Mr O'Connor said one of the difficult parts of rescuing the 23-year-old from the water - an exhausting struggle that took 30 minutes - was that he knew his friend in the driver's seat, 24-year-old Gregory Woledge, was gone.

"It's very hard because you feel elated that someone has survived, but you also can't help feeling for the family who have lost someone, especially someone who is a young dad," said Mr O'Connor, who has been rostered off since the tragedy.

Talk about taking the protecting public safety directive to new heights. Of course the police don't have to follow that directive when it might endanger their own lives, so O'Connor's actions are clearly extraordinary.

Here's what happened in the hero's own words:

"I hadn't even made a decision at that point; hadn't thought about jumping in. For some reason I just took the vest off and threw it in the back of the car," he said.

"I went to the bridge, someone had a torch on him and I saw him go under the water and then come back up again. I just started stripping down. I could hear someone saying 'someone has to do something'; and some people saying 'you can't go in, you won't make it' and I kind of just ignored that. It was a calculated risk - I assessed the situation pretty quickly.

"I don't think I ever thought I couldn't do; it's hard to explain. I've never felt fear like it. I was shaking and am not sure whether that was the cold or the anticipation of what I was about to do.

"It was only when I climbed over the rail that I actually started thinking 'what am I doing?' and then I saw him go under again and for that split second everything went calm and I just jumped."

What I really like most about this sad but heroic story is that One News reported the 24-year-old driver who died, Gregory Woledge, was likely to have seen O'Connor jump into the water to attempt a rescue. I like to think that Woledge's last mortal thoughts weren't of the terrible accident or the pain, but instead of a fellow human being risking his own life to try and rescue him.

Clearly he went above and beyond the call of duty. That's why Deane O'Connor wins this week's Hero Award. Well done that man.