A mother and her two children are feared dead after their car plunged into a flooded river and was swept away. A third child – a 10-year-old girl – managed to escape the sinking car and swim to safety before alerting passers-by and running to a nearby house for help.

Witnesses said the distraught girl, who had suffered cuts to her legs, was running along the road yelling that her mother, sister and brother were inside the car. Several men jumped into the freezing river in a desperate effort to rescue her mother and siblings who were trapped in the vehicle. However they were unable to free them as it sank to the bottom of the Tweed River near Tumbulgum in New South Wales, Australia.

The tragic incident occurred on a slippery road that was closed to traffic after torrential rain from Cyclone Debbie left rivers swollen and several areas flooded. Retired police officer Matt Grinham, who jumped into the murky river in a desperate bid to save the mother and children, said: “We tried diving a couple of times but the water was so brown and cold … the flood run off is freezing down there. The car was completely submerged when we got there.”