'I said I promise mate I won't let you die. I broke that promise.'
TWO men who saved the life of an eight-year-old boy at Tin Can Bay on Sunday will always remember they could not do the same for his nine-year-old friend, despite every human effort.
It was a burning hot day that enticed fishermen and splash-happy families, but when Adam Whitehouse, 49, stopped for a dip in the blue water off Norman Point near Tin Can Bay he instantly saw something was wrong.
Two boys were struggling offshore; an inflatable tube just escaping them in a wind that was chopping the water and pulling them outwards.
Adam dove into the water, swimming out to the boys and grabbing them as they edged dangerously close to the channel drop.
Swimming as hard as he could, both boys were clambering, clinging and panicking about him as he tried to wrestle against the strong tidal current sucking them all further out.
He does not know how long he battled the blue, a mammoth effort of treading and paddling, fighting desperately to save the boys and keep his own head above water as the boys clung to him.
But Adam fought as long as he could for both boys, pushing one off at different intervals so he could take a breath before his own head went under to lift the other boy up, and then pulling the boy back to him.
"I can remember my lungs were getting shorter. I couldn't get big enough breaths," a distraught Adam told The Gympie Times yesterday from his workplace, Edwards Transport at Kybong, where he has taken solace under the gentle guard of his employer.
Barely blinking as he told his story, Adam said he could not stop the unforgettable from repeating in his mind.
"That little boy just kept pleading: 'please don't let me die'.
"I said 'I promise mate I won't let you die'."
But the boy's head had gone under, and emerged with foam frothing from his mouth.
With tears in his eyes, Adam cannot get past those moments.
"I broke that promise."
From 250m away Graeme Spillman saw what he thought was an innocent scene: a man and two boys playing in the water just offshore.
He was docked off Norman Point and had been painting the inside of his yacht before the heat forced him to take a break on deck.
But less than a minute later, the three heads in the water became two.
It took Graeme just seconds to get to the swimmers in his tinny; they were now 50-60m offshore, in 30m-deep water in the channel.
When he reached them one boy was submerged, visible through the water as Adam clung to his hand, while the other was clinging to Adam's shoulder as they both fought for air.
He pulled the boys on to the boat.
Adam began to sink into the water.
"As soon as the boys were safe he went like a rag doll," Graeme said, sitting with Adam yesterday at Edwards Transport.
"Once they were in the boat and safe he didn't care any more.
"He said: 'I'm exhausted, I'm going,' and he just let go and sank."
Leaning over the boat, Graeme said 'no you're not' and grabbed the exhausted swimmer's hand before he disappeared.
Both men agreed Adam's life was seconds from being over.
"I'd pretty much taken my last breath - I was certain of death. Another second and I was gone," Adam said.
Unconscious and limp, Graeme tied Adam's hand to the boat, unable to drag the waterlogged man on board without capsizing them all.
On the boat and on shore, Graeme and an unknown man, who they described as dark-skinned with dreadlocks and someone who also deserved recognition, worked continuous CPR on the nine-year-old boy.
But it was too late.
Now both men must come to terms with the tragedy.
One man can not get the little boy's face out of his mind, the other cannot forget the boy's words, pleading for his life.
Graeme was released from hospital Sunday night, while the eight-year-old boy remains in a stable condition.
They both say the other is a hero, believing fate put them both there on that day so that the outcome was not worse.
Graeme can not fathom how Adam managed to hold the boys up for so long.
"I don't know how he paddled and tread water - waves hit him and he got water in his lungs. He used every ounce he had in his body - he had nothing left.
"He was prepared to die that day. He saved one little boy's life. He's a superman."
But Adam is reluctant to accept any praise.
"I might have been the hero for the little boy, but he's the hero for me and the little boy."