herald

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Hero student tells of his three attempts to save drowning woman

Andrew Johnston was visiting Co Donegal with his girlfriend
Andrew Johnston was visiting Co Donegal with his girlfriend

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

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

Having sold his tickets to the Longitude music festival, Mr Johnston, 21, surprised girlfriend Rhiannon Donaldson with a weekend in the seaside resort of Buncrana.

But while driving to the town on Saturday evening Mr Johnston noticed a commotion on the road at the Suile Bridge. A car had plunged into the Suile Burn, which flows into the River Foyle.

"I noticed this guy coming running towards me," Mr Johnston said. "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.

"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."

Resurfaced

For the next two minutes, the second-year engineering student at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown, tried three times to reach Mrs Loreta McKinlay.

On the first occasion, he simply didn't take enough air in and had to return to the surface.

On the second attempt the Armagh man reached into the front passenger seat of the car but there was nobody there.

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

The distraught husband pointed to the rear passenger side, where he had last seen his wife before the car hit the water.

Andrew, assisted by Mr McKinlay, then jumped back into the water and managed to pull open the rear passenger door. They managed to haul Mrs McKinlay onto the top of the car.

"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," Andrew added.

Mr McKinlay then performed CPR on his wife.

Mr Johnston said it was at least 20 minutes before an ambulance managed to get to the scene. "It was the longest 20 minutes of my life. I know Donegal is a large place and I'm not having a go at the ambulance service but I thought they were never going to arrive.

"I did genuinely fear the worst for the poor woman but the paramedics were doing their best to help us on the phone before the ambulance arrived," he said. When the rescue services arrived Andrew went to change his clothing. "When I came back they had put up a cordon and I could not get past it again. At that stage I thought I had done all I could and I drove on with my girlfriend," he said.

It was only yesterday that he realised that reports of the event were describing him as the mystery hero.

Helped

"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 said.

When management at the Harbour Inn in Buncrana, where the couple were staying, heard about Mr Johnston's bravery they gave himself and his girlfriend a free two-night stay to use in future.

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