FLASHBACK: The day little Tess O’Brien came home

As Gold Coasters searched for flood victims Kelli-Ann Jensen and Justin Reid, there was a moment of happiness - little Tess O'Brien went home. The then-six-year-old was burned in a boating accident.

A BOWL of nachos and the family together under one roof - that was the wish list for brave little burns victim Tess O'Brien, whose dream of going home came true.

Still swathed in bandages, a body suit and gloves, the six-year-old walked out of the Royal Children's Hospital with mum Sharon, dad and fellow burns victim Matthew, and brothers Luke and Seth.

Chirpy and far from camera-shy, Tess faced a large media pack with aplomb and soon had them eating out of her hand.

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Gold Coast Bulletin, Saturday July 2, 2005
Gold Coast Bulletin, Saturday July 2, 2005

Asked what was good about going home, she said: "I can be with my brothers and eat nachos.''

She then thanked the nurses for looking after her.

"They were nice, thank you for looking after me," she said.

When asked how she felt, Sharon's eyes filled with tears and, speechless, she referred the question to her husband.

Later she said she was so excited she was shaking.

14 YEARS SINCE THE 'ONE IN A THOUSAND YEAR' FLOODS

Tess O'Brien 6 years recovering from her burns at the Royal Childrens Hospital in Brisbane. Pictured with her are her parents Sharon and Matt. Pic: Glenn Hampson
Tess O'Brien 6 years recovering from her burns at the Royal Childrens Hospital in Brisbane. Pictured with her are her parents Sharon and Matt. Pic: Glenn Hampson

"It's going to be great to be back together as a family and get some normality back in our lives, and Tess even made me bring the video so I could film the occasion," said Matthew.

Nine weeks earlier Tess, together with eight-year-old Luke, Matthew and grandparents Mark and Fran O'Brien went fishing at Mermaid Reef, off the Gold Coast, on Mark's 10m Cruiser.

It was the grandchildren's first fishing trip and had been a great success until they were preparing to dock back at Main Beach.

Two flash explosions erupted, throwing Fran and Luke into the water and Matthew and Tess in the air and then into the engine compartment.

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Tess O'Brien 6yrs with her dad Mathew, mum Sharon during her last day in the Royal Children's Hospital before going home. Pic: Peter Wallis
Tess O'Brien 6yrs with her dad Mathew, mum Sharon during her last day in the Royal Children's Hospital before going home. Pic: Peter Wallis

Tess spent four days in intensive care in the Royal Children's Hospital with burns to 35 per cent of her body.

This was later upgraded to 40 per cent full tissue burns and she was expected to be an outpatient until she finishes Year 12.

Meanwhile, Justin Reid and his girlfriend, 21-year-old model Kelli-Ann Jensen, were soulmates planning a life together, but raging floodwaters swept those dreams away.

The young couple disappeared in the early hours of the previous morning, when their utility truck toppled over a Guanaba causeway engulfed by the swollen Coomera River, as they drove home from a friend's house in Tugun.

Model Kelli-Ann Jensen. SUPPLIED PIC
Model Kelli-Ann Jensen. SUPPLIED PIC

Hopes of their survival faded when parts of their 4WD were found, but friends and family continued searching for Kelli and 25-year-old Justin - known as `Gus' to his mates, until day's end.

Kelli's three sisters, three brothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents joined in the search and consoled Kelli's father throughout the day.

The family was struck by tragedy just 18 months earlier when Kelli's mother and stepfather died in a Tweed car crash.

Sister Aleisha Jensen said she was praying and hoping that somehow her `beloved' Kelli and Gus would be found safe.

Pictures of the search for missing couple, Justin Reid and Kelli Ann Jensen, in the Coomera River near Birds Road, Guanaba. The couple were swept off the causeway while trying to cross in their car.
Pictures of the search for missing couple, Justin Reid and Kelli Ann Jensen, in the Coomera River near Birds Road, Guanaba. The couple were swept off the causeway while trying to cross in their car.

"They were an excellent couple, they were soulmates, they were meant to be,'' she said.

"I just hope wherever they are, they're together.

"They were such a loving couple who were meant to be together.

"They had been together for two years and eventually they were going to get married.''

The last contact from the couple was a distressed phone call to Gus's friend Ben Petty at 12.15am Thursday morning.

"We're on the crossing and the water's getting higher," said Kelli.

In the background Gus could be heard screaming:

"It's getting deeper, it's getting deeper."

Then the phone went dead.