Lifford couple rescued after car crashes into river

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Lifford couple rescued after car crashes into river thumbnailThe scene in Donegal on Saturday evening when a Lifford couple were rescued after their car careered into the Swilly Burn River.

AN Armagh man has been praised for his bravery after entering a river in Donegal to rescue a couple after their car crashed and plunged into the water.

The dramatic rescue unfolded just shortly before 6.30pm on Saturday evening when the Nissan Qashqai car careered into the water close to Sully Bridge on the main road between Porthall and St Johnston.

The two occupants of the vehicle, who have been named locally as Philip and Loreta McKnlay, aged in their 60s and from Rosgier, Lifford, were rescued from the water thanks to the quick actions of passers-by.

Andrew Johnston from Lurgan and his girlfriend, who were visiting Donegal for the weekend, were among a number of people to come upon the distressing scene. Stopping at the roadside, the 21-year-old was asked by another man if he could swim to help the stricken couple.

Mr McKinlay, driver of the car, was already out of the vehicle and on top of the upturned car and told the young rescuer that his wife was still inside.

Without a thought for his own safety, Andrew then bravely jumped into the cold water and after four attempts managed to reach Mrs McKinlay who was trapped in back of the car and bring her to the surface with the help of her husband before the arrival of the emergency services.

She was unconscious and was eventually brought to the river edge helped by other members of the public at the waters edge where CPR was performed.


The emergency services arrived a short-time later and a huge cross-border operation then swung into operation with the road being closed for the remainder of the evening as Gardai conducted their investigations.

A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesperson said: "Firefighters gave first aid and oxygen therapy to the man and woman and supported the Ambulance Service at the scene before they were transferred to hospital, one by ambulance and one by helicopter.

"This was a multi-agency rescue involving two fire appliances from Strabane Station, the Crescent Link Water Rescue Teams and the Rescue Pump from Omagh Station and two NIFRS officers.

"An Garda Síochána, Donegal Fire Service, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, Donegal Ambulance Service and Rescue 118 Coastguard helicopter were all in attendance.

The couple's beloved pet dog, a golden retriever, which had also been travelling in the car, made off from the scene but was located a short time later.

The man and woman were taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry for treatment with Mrs McKinlay subsequently transferred to Letterkenny Hospital where her condition was described as 'serious'.

All those who helped in the rescue and particularly Mr Johnston have been praised for their heroic efforts.

Emergency services say Andrew's quick-thinking was crucial to saving the couple. "Two casualties, a man and woman in their 60s and a pet dog were rescued from their vehicle by a member of public who entered the water and helped free both casualties prior to the arrival of the emergency services..

"A special mention to the brave gentleman who entered the water and helped free both casualties before the emergency services arrived," a NIFRS spokesperson added.

Speaking out after his heroic efforts, Mr Johnston described the scene as "the scariest thing I have seen in my life."

After the rescue he continued on with his journey. "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. 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 added.

Garda Inspector, Michael Harrison, said the river was deep at the time of the incident and he also praised the efforts of all the passers-by who helped to rescue the couple.

"It was very perilous what they did, very risky, but they did it and it was just one of those situations where a number of intelligent people came along at the right time. There was even a hose used at one stage to assist in the rescue.

"They definitely did something which no ordinary person would do, and if that's what you need to be a hero then that's what they should be called," he said.


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