Holiday horror – Our toddler escaped our tent

'A split second not looking could change your life forever'

Jessica was fast asleep when her tot went on a terrifying solo adventure…

Here, Jessica Whyte, 21, tells the story in her own words.

Playing in the sand, my toddler Malachi crawled towards the waves again.

‘Oh no you don’t!’ I laughed, scooping him up.

My partner Josh, 23, Malachi, 19 months, and I were fishing at a beach near the campground where we were staying.

Cheeky, and with a boundless sense of adventure, Malachi was always trying to have a splash in the water!

After a long day, we headed back to the tent and put Malachi to sleep at 9pm.

At 10.30pm, Josh and I nodded off, with our sweet son tucked between us.

My beautiful son Malachi

Suddenly, I was jolted awake to the sound of our tent shaking loudly and someone outside, shouting.

It was just after daybreak and I thought I was dreaming.

Rolling over, I woke Josh and unzipped the tent to find a woman there.

‘Do you have a young son?’ she asked breathlessly. My eyes darted about the tent for Malachi. Where is he? I panicked, my heart pounding.

Scrambling out, Josh and I followed the woman, Sue, to the campground office. As we rushed inside, my eyes frantically searched for my boy’s face. And there he was – cocooned in a towel, sitting in the camp owner’s arms.

His little face was purple and flushed as he let out a weak cry. He looks so tiny, I thought.
Sue’s husband, Gus, was also there.

‘What happened?’ Josh asked. ‘I was out fishing this morning and I saw him floating in the waves,’ Gus explained. ‘I thought he was a little doll at first.’ I gasped in horror.

mum and son
Me and Malachi

It turned out that while we slept soundly, Malachi must have unzipped our tent and headed towards his favourite place – the beach – 15 metres away.

Gus usually fished at the other end of the bay, but that day something had drawn him to the water near our tent. Thank goodness he’d changed his plan.

Spotting Malachi’s seemingly lifeless body in the waves, he fished him out. Gus realised he was alive when our boy let out a little squeak. A minute longer and he could’ve drowned.

Hugging Malachi tight, I started sobbing. ‘Thank God you’re okay.’

It could have been so much worse.  I tearfully thanked Gus and Sue.

‘If you weren’t there, I don’t know what would’ve happened,’ I said.

Gus and his wife Sue (Credit: The Beacon)

As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, I kept Malachi awake as he tried to drift to sleep.

Bouncing him on my knee, my mind kept wandering to a dark place.

What if I wasn’t holding a healthy, breathing baby right now? I thought.

We didn’t know what had happened in the water, so Josh and I wanted Malachi checked by doctors.

While in the ambulance, he started vomiting.

‘That’ll be the water on his lungs,’ the medic said. He had swallowed a lot.

At the hospital his oxygen levels were monitored for the next eight hours.

Luckily, Malachi was perfectly fine apart from the water on his lungs.

Cradling him in my arms, I looked at my gorgeous boy.

‘Why did you go swimming?’ I asked him.

Gazing at me with his big, sparkling eyes, he let out a gurgling laugh. He’s still my cheeky boy! I thought, relieved.

After Malachi was cleared, we headed back to pack up our gear. Crouching down, I examined the tent zip.

‘We should have zipped it up higher!’ I sighed to Josh.

By fastening it at the bottom of the tent, Malachi had been able to reach it.

Next time, we’ll be far more diligent.

Back at home in his cot, Malachi fell into a deep sleep. He must be exhausted, I thought.

When he woke, my little man was his normal, bubbly self. Mischievous, adorable and with a screech that would be heard from the moon!

Since his little adventure, I’ve had lots of mums message and share stories of their children drowning.

It absolutely broke my heart. And I knew that could have been Malachi.

mum and son 2
He’s my cheeky boy

I’m sure others will judge us, but I’ll keep sharing our story to encourage parents to be careful when near water with young children.

A split second not looking could change your life forever.

If Gus hadn’t been there to save my son, this could be a very different story. I’m so lucky my beautiful boy is okay.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

Related stories