River hero made four at­tempts to save woman stuck in car

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Stephen Maguire

A STU­DENT has told how it took him four at­tempts to save the life of a drown­ing woman who be­came trapped in her car af­ter it plunged into a river.

Heroic An­drew John­ston from Ar­magh was vis­it­ing Co. Done­gal for the week­end when the dra­matic events un­folded.

Hav­ing sold his tick­ets to the Lon­gi­tude Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Dublin, An­drew, 21, sur­prised girl­friend Rhi­an­non Don­ald­son with a week­end in the sea­side re­sort of Bun­crana.

But while driv­ing to the town on the Inishowen Penin­sula on Satur­day evening, and af­ter pass­ing through Porthall just out­side Lif­ford, An­drew no­ticed a com­mo­tion on the road ahead at the Suile Bridge.

He said he ini­tially thought it was a car crash and never thought he would end up sav­ing the lives of two peo­ple just mo­ments later.

It was only grad­u­ally that he re­alised that a car with an el­derly cou­ple in­side, had plunged into the Suile Burn, which flows into the River Foyle, just be­fore 6.30pm.

He said: ‘I thought it was a crash but then I no­ticed this guy com­ing run­ning to­wards me.

‘He asked me if I could swim and brought me to the edge of the river. What I saw un­fold­ing be­fore me was the scari­est thing I have seen in my life. I saw the wreck­age of a car and a man, whose face was cov­ered in blood, was stand­ing on the top of an up­turned car.

‘I’m not a gold-medal swim­mer but I got out to him and asked him if there was any­body else in the car. He told me his wife was in the car. To be hon­est, it wasn’t the an­swer I wanted to hear, but I knew I had to do some­thing.’

For the next two min­utes, the sec­ond-year engi­neer­ing stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Ul­ster in Jor­danstown,

‘The long­est 20 min­utes of my life’

tried on four dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions to reach Loreta McKin­lay. The first time, he sim­ply didn’t take enough breath and had to re­turn to the sur­face. The sec­ond time, An­drew, from Lur­gan in Co. Ar­magh, reached into the front pas­sen­ger seat of the car – but there was no­body there.

He resur­faced and asked Philip McKin­lay where ex­actly his wife was in the car.

The ter­ri­fied hus­band pointed to the rear pas­sen­ger side.

An­drew, as­sisted by Mr McKin­lay, then jumped back into the wa­ter and man­aged to pull open the rear door.

They ini­tially had to dis­card var­i­ous items of cloth­ing and bags in the back of the car be­fore haul­ing Mrs McKin­lay onto the top of the car. An­drew said: ‘She was un­con­scious. Her lips were blue and I’d never seen any­thing like it in my life. It was so scary. I was sur­prised there was any breath­ing at all.’

Mr McKin­lay then at­tempted to per­form CPR on his wife.

Oth­ers from the river­bank had man­aged to get a gar­den hose from a pass­ing mo­torist and threw it to the res­cuers to use as a makeshift life-ring.

They man­aged to bring Mrs McKin­lay to the river­bank but couldn’t get her to dry land as the bank­ing was too steep. A num­ber of passers-by then man­aged to lift the stricken woman up onto the edge of the river.

The emer­gency ser­vices were con­tacted, but An­drew said it was at least 20 min­utes be­fore an am­bu­lance man­ager ar­rived. How­ever, he said that a para­medic did speak to those at Mrs McKin­lay’s side as they changed her re­cov­ery po­si­tion, and stayed with her as she bat­tled to live.

‘It was the long­est 20 min­utes of my life,’ he said. When the res­cue ser­vices, in­clud­ing the Res­cue 118 heli­copter, did ar­rive, An­drew went to change his cloth­ing.

‘When I came back, they had put up a cor­don and I could not get past it again.’

An­drew then went to stay at the Har­bour Inn in Bun­crana for the night. It was only on Sun­day that he re­alised that news re­ports of the po­ten­tially tragic event were de­scrib­ing him as the ‘mys­tery hero’.

‘I don’t want to de­scribe my­self as a hero. I just wanted to find out how the cou­ple were. I’m hop­ing they will be okay.’

Life­line: An­drew with the gar­den hose used in the res­cue

Trapped: Loreta McKin­lay

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