Tuesday 17 October 2017

'It was so scary' - hero tells how he saved woman after her car plunged into river

Rescue hero Andrew Johnston with the garden hose which was used in the rescue Picture: North West Newspix
Rescue hero Andrew Johnston with the garden hose which was used in the rescue Picture: North West Newspix

Stephen Maguire

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

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

The couple’s car is lifted from the Swilly Burn river near Lifford, Co Donegal. Photo: North West News
The couple’s car is lifted from the Swilly Burn river near Lifford, Co Donegal. Photo: North West News

Mr Johnston (21), from Lurgan, Co Armagh, surprised girlfriend Rhiannon Donaldson with a weekend in the seaside resort of Buncrana after selling his tickets to Longitude Music Festival. But when they passed through Porthall, just outside Lifford, he noticed a commotion on the road ahead at the Suile Bridge.

Loreta and Philip McKinlay's car had plunged into the Suile Burn, which flows into the River Foyle, around 6.30pm on Saturday.

"I thought it was a crash but then noticed this guy running towards me. He asked me if I could swim and brought me to the edge of the river," Mr Johnston said.

"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.

Philip McKinlay
Philip McKinlay

"I'm not a gold medal swimmer but I got out to him and asked if there was anybody else in the car. He said his wife was. It wasn't the answer I wanted but I knew I had to do something."

The engineering student at the University of Ulster tried four different times to reach Mrs McKinlay. Assisted by Mr McKinlay, he jumped back into the water, pulled open the rear passenger door, and managed to haul her on to the top of the car.

Another passer-by had run to a passing motorist and managed to get a water hose, which he passed to Mr Johnston, and which was used to drag the pair back to dry land.

"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 Johnston said.

Loreta McKinlay
Loreta McKinlay

Mr McKinlay attempted CPR on his wife. A number of passers-by managed to lift her on to the bank of the river, and the emergency services were contacted.

"I thought I had done all I could and I drove on with my girlfriend," said Mr Johnston.

He said his immediate thoughts were with the McKinlays after their ordeal.

"I don't want to describe myself as a hero. I just wanted to find out how the couple were.

"I don't want to think what could have happened. A lot of people helped out on the day and I was just one of them," he said.

Mr Johnston also revealed it was a quirk of fate he was passing the river when he did. "I should have been at Longitude but sold my tickets. Life works in mysterious ways," he added.

Irish Independent

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