Here Brad Johnston, 18, tells the story in his own words.
l packed up for the day, I jumped in the car.
It was June this year, and I’d just finished at my carpentry job.
Being winter, I flicked on the car heater.
I only lived a few kilometres away and as I drove, I was thinking about my dinner.
But three cars in front, I noticed a black car that couldn’t stay in the lane. The tyres were scraping the kerb and it was swerving all over the place.
‘Drunk!’ I cursed.
As the two cars in front turned off the road, I stayed a safe distance behind the reckless driver.
Driving at 80kph, the speed limit was the only law he seemed to be following.
‘What are you doing?’ I yelled, as the car sped into oncoming traffic.
When he suddenly crossed the lines, the car travelling in the opposite direction honked and hit the brakes.
That was close! I thought, my heart thumping.
Turning onto my street, my mind was racing.
What should I do?
Flashing my lights, I tried to grab the attention of the erratic driver. But as we sped towards the end of the road my heart sank.
In 800 metres the road drops off… into the Hawkesbury River!
As we passed my home I didn’t dare pull in, I needed to stop that car.
Pushing my hand onto my horn, I begged him to slow down. But he just kept going – hitting the dirt road.
The yellow warning signs flickered in my headlights as we sped past.
Danger strong currents, one said.
Warning, river entrance ahead, another read.
Just then, the car flew off the edge and into the water.
Slamming on the brakes, I flung off my seatbelt and ran to the water’s edge.
Come on! I thought, dialling Triple-0 and urging someone to emerge from the vehicle.
But no-one did.
By now, the car, which was about 15 metres out, was filling with water – fast.
‘Help’s on the way,’ the operator said. ‘Stay on the shore.’
‘There are people in the car, they could drown!’ I replied, stepping out into the freezing water.
Knee high in the murky river, I could see the car in the dark, sinking bonnet first.
I couldn’t just stand there!
Diving into the water, I swam to the car.
The dashboard lit up the interior and I could see water lapping the steering wheel and the driver.
An elderly gentleman with big eyes stared back at me.
With a grin stretched from ear to ear he seemed lost.
When the door handles wouldn’t budge, I noticed they were locked.
I need to smash the windows, I thought.
Racing back to my car, I grabbed a crowbar.
Swimming against the current, I reached the passenger side window.
But, treading water, I couldn’t get leverage. As I swung at the glass, it just wouldn’t break. It was the same with the back window.
Glancing at the man, the water was up to his chest.
This isn’t working, I realised.
Slipping the crowbar into the side of the back door, I used every ounce of strength I had.
Finally, it popped open.
The force of water rushed inside the car, causing it to sink more quickly.
I swam into the back seat and grabbed the man from the driver’s seat. Curling my arms underneath his armpits, we floated on our backs away from the wreck.
Back at the shore, I saw the car bobbing in the current with just the roof peeking out from the river.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked the man.
‘It’s alright young lad, just drop me down the road,’ he smiled at me.
Just then, the emergency services pulled up.
They took my statement and helped the man into the back of the ambulance. But he seemed so confused.
Walking through the door at home, my dad, Greg, 45, took in the water dripping off my clothes.
‘Did it rain today mate? You look like a drowned rat!’ he laughed.
‘Just had a swim in the river,’ I replied, telling him about the man I’d rescued.
Dad couldn’t believe it and we even went back out to watch the tow truck drag the vehicle from the water.
It sent shivers down my spine.
It might not have ended the way it did, I thought.
A few days later I received a call from a sweet lady.
‘You saved my husband!’ she said. ‘Thank you so much.’
She explained he was 76 and has dementia.
She’d been in hospital for day surgery, when he’d got behind the wheel unlicensed.
‘I’m glad everything turned out the way it did,’ I told her, grateful he was safe.
We made plans to catch up when he felt up to it.
Weeks later, I got more calls from his children interstate thanking me for saving their dad’s life.
When my mates at the pub found out what had happened they shouted me beers and nicknamed me the local hero.
I don’t count myself as a hero though.
I reckon anyone in my situation would have done the same thing.
The important thing is he’s safe.