How equipped are we to act when faced with a catastrophic situation?
A week after risking her life to pull sisters Jessica and Annabelle Falkholt from the devastating Boxing Day car wreck near Bendalong on the South Coast, Lisa Elmas continues to put others before herself.
The moment she came upon the tail-end of the collision, the 44-year-old single mother of three from Mollymook pulled her car off the road. Without hesitation, she sprang into action, very clear about what the priority was.
“I just knew I had to get those girls out of the car,” says Lisa. “I could see the flames underneath. I knew it was going to explode.”
She called for onlookers to get whatever they had in their cars that might be used to help and throw it on the ground.
After checking for pulses, she temporarily put out the flames with three small fire extinguishers before using one of them to smash the car windows. Another onlooker handed her latex gloves, and manicure scissors, which she used to cut through the seatbelts.
After dragging the girls from the car with assistance from other civilians with just seconds to spare, she stayed with them until ambulances arrived and they were helicoptered out, with no training other than a basic first aid course done years ago.
Lisa is especially grateful for the support of off-duty paramedic Aaron Mcneill and his wife Tasia Eve Nita from Brisbane, who assisted in the triage of the girls until ambulances arrived.
“I’m still in awe of Lisa’s efforts that day,” says Aaron. “I’m trained to deal with such things and I can honestly say that was one of the worst. It will also stay with me forever too. Lisa is a hero in my eyes. I literally cannot thank her enough.”
She also recalls the assistance of a young female doctor just out of medical school.
“Without the support of onlookers and the community supplying medical supplies and fire extinguishers, I would have felt helpless,” says Lisa.
“Everybody there did the best they could under the circumstances. My heart goes out to everyone who witnessed this tragedy.”
“I was on autopilot. I don’t even know how I knew what to do. I just did it.”
The first emergency personnel to arrive on the scene commended Lisa for her actions, telling her she did everything right. Sadly, Annabelle Falkholt, 21, has since died in hospital from her injuries. Her sister, Jessica Falkholt, 28, remains in a coma in hospital in a critical condition. Their parents, Lars and Vivien Falkholt, 69 and 60, died at the scene, along with the driver of the other car, Craig Whitall, 50.