It was savage weather for such a solemn occasion in the late Australian winter of 2009. The family group was gathered at the Melbourne waterfront to pay their last respects to an elderly clan member. All of a sudden, one of their number was alerted to something dreadfully wrong. Quickly realizing that a life was in real danger, the guy halted proceedings and – literally – leapt into action. He paid no mind to the fact that in doing so he was seriously jeopardizing his own safety.
Australian Raden Soemawinata is a part-time model, sometime chef and all-time hero. He now lives in Norway, but back in August 2009 the 28-year-old was in his native country and in mourning. He and his family had recently lost his grandmother. After his granny’s passing, Soemawinata’s family made a plan to come together in order to scatter the old girl’s ashes.
The family decided that the perfect place to say goodbye to their loved one was Brighton in Australia’s second city Melbourne. The suburb is one of the wealthiest parts of town and also boasts a number of beautiful beaches. Soemawinata and his relatives agreed that the area’s Brighton Pier was a fitting place to scatter his grandmother’s ashes into Port Phillip Bay.
The family chose a date to meet and all congregated together at the pier on August 15 for the impromptu ceremony. However, the weather in Melbourne that day was far from ideal for any kind of gathering. At the time, gale-force winds were tearing their way through the city and its surrounding state of Victoria. Consequently, the mourners braced themselves; it seemed their emotional moment was to be a rather blustery affair.
In fact, the winds were so extreme that the state emergency services in Victoria had taken more than 1,000 calls that morning. Strong gusts of up to 80 miles an hour had caused damage to many people’s homes and vehicles. However, nothing was going to deter the determined family from honoring their late loved one.
So despite the dramatic winds providing a squally background, Soemawinata and his relatives set off down Brighton Pier to carry out the solemn scattering ceremony. But it was while they were paying their respects that something major interrupted proceedings. And it was clear to Soemawinata that a life was now hanging in the balance.
While the family were conducting their heartfelt tribute, local woman Sue Drummond was walking her Maltese-shih tzu cross, Bibi, along the pier. However, as they strolled along the structure, the wind picked up in intensity. And then, all of a sudden, an almighty gust scooped up the miniature mutt and threw him into the storm-tossed waves below.
Drummond was so shocked by what had just happened that she immediately froze. At a loss at what to do for the best, all she could do was watch as her beloved little Bibi was bounced around by the angry ocean swell. But, if someone didn’t act soon, the poor animal was sure to sink under the dangerously choppy waves and drown.
Bibi’s owner considered jumping in herself. However, she wasn’t sure that she was a strong enough swimmer for the extreme conditions. Putting her own life in danger would not do anyone any favors. As a result, precious moments ticked by as Drummond debated her dilemma and wondered anxiously what to do.
“I thought he was going to sink and then maybe I wouldn’t be able to find him,” the dog owner later explained to Sydney newspaper the Herald Sun in 2009. “But I didn’t really want to hop in the water either, because I wasn’t quite sure if I could make it to shore with a struggling dog.”
But, as a panicked Drummond stood helplessly on the pier watching Bibi struggle in the spume, Soemawinata swept past her. The brave young man wasted no time in kicking off his shoes and stripping off. Clad in just his shirt, underwear and socks, he leapt valiantly into the roiling waters. Battling manfully against the white-crested waves, the then 20-year-old was somehow able to get a hold of the thrashing Bibi.
With Bibi now firmly in his grip, Soemawinata mustered all his strength and swam them both to safety. He reached the pier and handed Drummond her shocked and sodden dog. A mightily relieved and grateful dog owner then embraced Soemawinata as he clambered back on to the boardwalk. Thanks to the selfless actions of a total stranger, the emotional owner and her pet were mercifully reunited.
Following Bibi’s rescue, and the rescue story’s subsequent appearance in the press, many people were quick to hail Soemawinata as a hero. However, the photogenic young man remained modest about his actions. “I’m a part-time model, so getting into my jocks isn’t so different to what I do for work,” he joked to the Herald Sun.
When quizzed further, Soemawinata – who was a dog owner himself – said he didn’t need to think twice that day. He followed the unfortunate Bibi into the briny water almost automatically. “It was pretty cold and windy,” he admitted. “But it wasn’t such a hard decision to jump in, it wasn’t such a great feat.”
But, while Soemawinata remained humble about his heroic actions, many other people were singing his praises on high. Foremost among them was the little pooch’s owner. “Bibi would have succumbed if [Soemawinata] hadn’t jumped in,” Drummond told welfare charity Animals Australia in 2009. “He’s such a very nice young man.”
In the days following the rescue, the animal protection organization honored the “stoked” Soemawinata with its Compassionate Citizen Award. Appositely, Animals Australia decided to hold the medal-giving ceremony on Brighton Pier. So it was that on August 20, 2009, Bibi the Maltese-shih tzu mix was finally reunited with his hero.
Ahead of the presentation, Glenys Oogjes, the chief executive director of Animals Australia, praised Soemawinata’s selflessness. The charity boss said that not many people would put their own life on the line to save an animal. “Raden’s action in jumping into the sea in such wild weather to rescue Bibi was truly courageous and most likely saved the life of this little dog,” she added.
After accepting his gong, Soemawinata once again questioned whether he was worthy of the honor. “I was quite proud but at the same time I wondered whether I’d done enough to receive it,” he admitted in an article on the Animals Australia website. He did concede that being a dog owner himself may have motivated his rescue attempt. He explained, “I know the companionship dogs bring to people.”
Amazingly, Bibi was quick to bounce back from his near-drowning ordeal. And even returning to Brighton Pier for the first time didn’t seem to impede his recovery process. “He seems very much back to normal,” a relieved Drummond revealed to Animals Australia. “He’s focused on food, which is his normal thing.”
Thanks to Soemawinata’s quick-thinking, Drummond and Bibi were able to enjoy countless more walks together on the Brighton seafront or elsewhere. Meanwhile, Soemawinata has learned to enjoy his celebrity status. After originally playing down his bravery, on Facebook he now describes himself as “everyone’s favourite dog hero.” In addition, his profile picture features Bibi in his arms as he heads for safety on that stormy day in 2009.