Modest hero saves a little girl

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 Kaitaia woman Paulette Lewis didn't think twice when she saw a toddler fall off the pontoon at the Mangonui wharf on Sunday afternoon. The little girl sank like a stone, leaving only her hat floating on the water.

Paulette leapt in after her - thanks to very good visibility she could see the child, still sinking - and brought her back to the surface. The youngster was unhurt, and unfazed, but Paulette didn't escape quite so lightly.

She punctured her foot, probably on an exposed coach screw, somewhere between leaving the pontoon and getting back out of the water, and picked up a few bumps and grazes.

The foot was still very sore yesterday, meaning she won't be travelling to Auckland on Sunday as she had planned to train with a national indoor netball team, although she should be as fit as a fiddle again when comes the time to play.

Her aunt, Dawn Anderson, also from Kaitaia, said she had been watching four small children dabbling their feet over the edge of the pontoon. When three of the children went to another spot, the mother who had been watching them went to move with them.

Dawn thought the toddler slipped on the rim of the pontoon as she stood up to follow; she didn't see the child fall, but her niece did.

"I turned around and thought 'Where's Paulette gone?' and then saw her in the water. Then I noticed the kiddie's hat just floating in the water, it was such an awful feeling.

"The mother came running and other people began to rush over," she added.

"The little girl hadn't made a sound as she went over, or splashed around or anything. She just went down like a stone, and it had happened in an instant."

A youth worker (with Te Oranga) and keen sportswoman, Paulette took her cell phone and Dawn's electronic keys into the water with her. The keys survived but the cell phone did not. It wasn't clear yesterday whether the memory card, which held all sorts of contacts and other information, would still function.

Paulette declined an offer from the child's grateful father to give her his own phone as a replacement.

"It's a small price to pay for the life of a child," she told her aunt, adding that she would sleep well knowing that little girl was alive.

She had tried to grab the child as she toppled from the pontoon but couldn't reach her, Dawn saying that quite a few people were there but no one else noticed her fall into the water.

"It was so quick," she said, "and just typical of Paulette to act so quickly without any thought for herself.

"She didn't hesitate for a second, and I am so proud of her."

Had her niece not seen the toddler fall and acted so quickly the search would have been for a small body that could have been swept away on the turning tide, she added.

- Northland Age

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