A heroic police officer who drowned while trying to save a woman from a whirlpool in the Blue Mountains has been awarded the state’s highest bravery medal at her emotional funeral.
Senior Constable Kelly Foster was remembered on Thursday as a “one of a kind” daughter and sister who loved the outdoors and had a smile that lit up the room.
Speaking on behalf of the family at the Lithgow Uniting Church, her sister Leigh thanked the community for its “outpouring of grief” since the loss of the beloved 39-year-old.
Members of Constable Foster’s close-knit family and friends gathered to say their last goodbyes after she died in a tragic canyoning incident near Mount Wilson on January 2.
Constable Foster and the other woman, student Jennifer Qi, who also drowned, were members of a canyoning tour group on the Wollangambe River that day.
The off-duty officer attempted to rescue the woman but was also tipped into the water.
Both women were sucked into a whirlpool and their bodies were recovered by police divers the following day.
Those close to the beloved cop embraced each other at the Lithgow church, which heard of a proud and dedicated police officer who was a loving sister, daughter, partner and friend.
“She was one of a kind – tough when she needed to be but selfless, always protecting the people around her,” Leigh Foster said.
Ms Foster said that kind-heartedness was evident throughout Kelly’s life, from her first role as a protective big sister to her early career as a teacher and then as a police officer.
“She overcame the challenges in her life with grit and resilience and with a smile that lit up her whole face – and every room that she entered – and a laugh that was infectious.”
Strangers lined the streets for the funeral procession and marching escort through the heart of the NSW town after the service.
Constable Foster’s coffin was carried into the church draped with the Australian flag by uniformed NSW Police colleagues, while others carried her medals.
Spaces around Lithgow were decorated with blue balloons and streamers as a mark of respect to the fallen hero.
Leigh Foster said her sister, an avid bushwalker, had found her “paradise” when she moved to Katoomba in 2017 and used the Blue Mountains home as a base for adventure.
It was a mutual love for the outdoors that brought Constable Foster and Ms Qi, 24, to the canyon in which they both perished, Leigh Foster said.
Ms Qi, a software engineer, had made plans to travel the outback and to go free diving with her friends.
“Our hearts go out to Jenny’s family and friends who are also grieving at this time,” Ms Foster said.
“We will remain forever connected by this tragedy and our shared grief.”
She thanked emergency services who worked feverishly to locate the women’s bodies and said their kindness had made the loss that touch more “bearable”.
A breast cancer survivor and 10-year veteran of the police force, Constable Foster began her career at Newtown in 2010 and had was stationed at Lithgow at the time of her death.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller delivered her valedictory, saying she served her community and state with “outstanding dedication and devotion to duty” throughout her career.
He posthumously conferred upon her the Commissioner’s Valour Award, the state’s highest bravery award.
“She was a shining example of an officer who truly upheld our policing traditions of professionalism, commitment, honour and courage,” he said.
Throughout her career, she was involved in high-profile tactical operations including the Lindt Cafe siege and worked busting sexual criminals in the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Squad.
Her tragic death sparked an outpouring of grief and sympathy across the country, with NSW Police Minister David Elliot describing her final moments as “a truly heroic act that will never be forgotten”.
Constable Foster’s family urged those who wished to support the family to do so by donating to Police Legacy: visit the website.