Pair put aside fear to save fisherman

Lareena Woods was never a great swimmer, hated seaweed and feared sharks.

But when she saw a stranger slip from rocks at an Albany fishing beach into the churning surf, she did not hesitate to follow him in.

"I didn't even think twice - I wasn't going to watch someone die in front of me," she said six years later on receiving a Commendation for Brave Conduct in this year's Australian Bravery Awards.

"I've only been up to level 10 in swimming lessons. The waves were humungous. I was really scared."

The scene for the drama was Salmon Holes on Good Friday, March 21, 2008, when Ms Woods and friend Reynold Williams, who also received a Commendation for Brave Conduct, went fishing.

The sight of a man close to the edge of the rocks where years earlier Nathan Drew had been swept to his death worried Ms Woods, who had gone to school with Mr Drew.

"We kept telling him to move back," she said. "He'd dropped something and was trying to get it out of the water with his rod when he fell."

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Thanks to the work of a trust set up in Mr Drew's memory, there was a lifebuoy station. However, the man they would come to know as Ariel Dogello could not swim to reach the buoy. Ms Woods and Mr Williams decided to swim and tie it on to him.

"He was extremely scared," Ms Woods said. "I kept telling him to calm down and kick, kick, kick. He was getting dunked by every single wave. I was just trying not to be scared and not think of sharks."

The pair tried to swim Mr Dogello to shore but struggled in the surf. Exhausted, and swallowing water they had to make another tough decision: to leave Mr Dogello with the buoy until the rescue boat got to him and try to make it in themselves.

"I was starting to fear for my life," Ms Woods said. "I still have nightmares about looking up at the waves. As soon as I let him go, he went back out around the reef and that's when the rescue boat picked him up."

Mr Dogello sends his friends who helped save his life a birthday gift every year.

The experience has not kept Ms Woods away from Salmon Holes but it has made her wary.

"I'm still quite scared of the water but I'm not going to let the water get the best of me," she said.

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The West Australian

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