A Hero from a Different Wave

Paula Thomas | June 3rd, 2017

An Australian man who nearly drowned in the waves near Fishermans Beach was reunited with the man who saved his life during a ceremony to honor the heroic deed.

Alden Williams, Farfax, NZ

When Isaac McMahon, a 24-year-old Australian, decided to take his sister’s jet ski out for a spin, he never imagined that the joy ride might end in a fight for survival. McMahon was busy enjoying the waves when he lost his grip and slipped off the jet ski. “At first, I thought ‘Dad’s gonna kill me; the jet ski’s gone,’” said McMahon. At first, he thought he’d be able to make it back to shore on his own, but the strong current and icy waves soon overtook him.

James Norton, a 32-year-old New Zealander and amateur surfer, was also out enjoying the ocean that day. Somehow, McMahon’s desperate calls for help carried across the water to where Norton was surfing. Looking out over the waves, he could barely make out a human head bobbing in and out of sight.

Norton wasted no time paddling out after alerting a nearby couple to the situation so that they could keep watch. Norton’s wife had raised the alarm as soon as she realized that something was wrong. However, no one was brave enough to venture out into the water to help. After 10 minutes of continuous paddling, Norton finally reached McMahon, who was already suffering the effects of exhaustion and hypothermia. Once Norton had pulled McMahon onto his board, the real work began.

Norton was not only struggling against the extra weight his board now carried, but he was paddling against strong wind gusts as he tried to make his way to shore. Add the fact that he was also trying to keep McMahon’s head above the waves, and it’s miraculous to think that Norton made it back to shore in about 20 minutes.

Once they made it to shore, it was clear that McMahon was in rough shape. He collapsed onto the sand and curled into a ball. So Norton slid McMahon back onto his surfboard and began to pull him up the Cliffside to where the ambulance was waiting.

“I have no doubt I wouldn’t have made it without James,” said McMahon at the ceremony which honored Norton’s bravery. Australia’s Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove presented Norton with the Australian Commendation for Brave Conduct, saying, “New Zealand is lucky to have you as a citizen, and Australia is lucky to have you as a friend.”

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