Unbreakable bonds

On Monday 31st May, a small group of people met together for a special celebration hosted by Henderson Police. Angela and Jesse Drake wanted to thank those who helped keep their family together.

Little more than six months prior, adrift and without a boat, the beautiful yet unpredictable Manukau Harbour almost claimed the lives of Jesse and their son Taten. It was the kindness of these strangers, from all walks of life yet united in purpose, who helped save the lives of father and son that day.

On Saturday 21st November 2020, on what should have been a fun day out fishing, the Drake family’s troubles began with an early morning toilet break.

Taten, who had taken his lifejacket off, fell overboard while washing his hands in the water. Without hesitation, Jesse went in after his son. With arms around Taten, Jesse had underestimated how strong the current was. Try as he might, he couldn’t make it back to their anchored boat. Frustratingly, Jesse could only look on as they drifted further away from their saving grace.

Now, the young dad was in the fight of his life and for the life of his son.

Waitemata District Commander Naila Hassan recalled how incredible the rescue that resulted was. “We attend a lot of call outs with really bad outcomes,” she said, “but you did the right thing – you asked for help!”

It was Jesse’s faint cries over the waves that caught the attention of kayakers Eleasar Senining and Jose Alibar who were fishing. By this time Jesse, suffering hypothermia, had been treading water for approximately an hour. The two able men pulled Taten, who was unresponsive, up onto the bow of Eleasar’s kayak. Eleasar started administering CPR.

Taten eventually began coughing – good news, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. Eleasar and Jose made a plan of action which included calling 111 and Jose finding a bigger boat to help.

This time it was 10-year-old Daniel McDowell who heard Jose calling. Daniel’s actions were recognised at the celebration where he received the Police District Commander’s Merit Coin Commendation for his efforts. Daniel, along with parents Brad and Evelynne Gilmour, were also enjoying a day out on the water in their boat. Evelynne was five month’s pregnant at the time.

While the Drakes were helped onboard, Daniel grabbed jackets and towels to keep them warm. Taten was unconscious and barely breathing. The Gilmours literally grounded their boat up on to Cornwallis beach. Daniel kept watch over it as his parents attended to their unexpected guests. Brad carried Taten in his arms into the care of Police, Fire and Ambulance who converged at the scene.

Brad and Evelynne were both awarded the District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation.

In little more than 20 minutes from tasking, Westpacs 1 and 2 arrived at Cornwallis to also assist Jesse and Taten. They were flown to Auckland City Hospital and Starship Hospital for further treatment. Although Taten was in a critical condition at the time, he made a fast and remarkable recovery.

Chief Crewman Mark “Tinny” Cannell’s sentiments echoed all those present at the station, “Absolutely well done to everyone who prevented a tragedy from unfolding.”

Angela and Jesse are so thankful for the kindness of these friends who are no longer strangers. Since the accident, both the Drake and Gilmour families have welcomed little girls Amara and Sienna into the world.