Student who saved woman from car in Irish river 'acted on instinct'

The car was lifted from river
Image caption The car was upside down in the river when the rescuer entered the water

A County Armagh student who saved a woman trapped in an upturned car in an Irish river has said he acted on "instinct".

Andrew Johnston, 21, from Lurgan, was hailed as a "brave gentleman" for his efforts.

He entered the water and helped to free the woman before the emergency services arrived at the scene at Porthall in County Donegal on Saturday evening.

An Garda Síochána (Irish police) said other members of the public helped him.

Mr Johnston said it took a number of attempts to free the woman and praised the contribution of her partner.

"The two of us pulled her out and the water was up to chest height and I was holding her up with my hands under her arms, giving her chest compressions," he said.

"As soon as we got her out and she had surfaced, someone threw out a garden hose which we used to pull her into the bank.

"The bank was a metre above the water level, it was wet and mucky and tricky to get her out.

"I haven't had any training, it was all instinct - it was just a one track mind getting everyone that was there above the water, getting them resurfaced.

"At the end of the day, I am an able-bodied male, the man that did most of the work in my eyes was the 65-year-old man who has three broken bones in his back."

Image caption Andrew Johnston said it took a number of attempts to free the woman

Fire services from both sides of the Irish border helped with the rescue and a coastguard helicopter was also called to the scene of the incident, which happened at about 18:30 local time.

'Both submerged'

The woman was taken to Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry in Northern Ireland by the helicopter, while her partner was taken by ambulance.

The woman has since been moved to Letterkenny University Hospital in County Donegal, where she is in a serious condition. The couple's pet dog was also rescued from the car.

Eyewitness Stephen McNulty, from St Johnston in County Donegal, described Mr Johnston as "a hero" and said that the only thing in the student's head was "to get the woman out".

He said that the four wheels of the car were visible at the time, but not the doors.

"I ran up to the bridge and I saw the car overturned in the water and the male (the woman's husband) was just out of the car at that time," he added.

Image caption Stephen McNulty witnessed the rescue

"I shouted to him was he okay and he said his wife was still trapped in the car. He asked could I swim and by that time there was another young fella had landed, he could swim and he just jumped straight in.

"He managed to get the door open and get her out and get her into the banking.

"She wasn't breathing and another young lad gave her CPR at the scene."

Mr McNulty said Mr Johnston was still present when the emergency services arrived and that he had borrowed his coat.

"I was talking to him before I left and he gave me my jacket back," he said.

"I shook his hand and said 'well done sir, because if it was not for you that woman would still be in the car'."

Image copyright NIFRS
Image caption Coastguard helicopter Rescue 118 took one of the people to hospital

David Doherty, from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, said the people in the car were "both submerged under water and were suspended by their seatbelts" after the crash.

"A gentleman very selflessly entered the water - this water would've been up to his chest," the Strabane station commander said.

"He had performed the rescue of one casualty and helped to free the other casualty.

"We have to give that man a big pat on the back for his early intervention.

"Undoubtedly, his actions were very brave and he did help save these people's lives."

'No ordinary person'

Garda Insp Michael Harrison said the river was deep at the time of the incident and he praised 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," he said.

Image copyright NIFRS
Image caption Emergency services from both sides of the border helped with the rescue

"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."

'Quite challenging terrain'

Fire service medics performed CPR and first aid on the couple after they were taken from the water.

"One of the casualties was unresponsive but they were able to re-establish [her] breathing and stabilise her," Mr Doherty said.

"This was down a riverbank and it was quite challenging terrain, so we had to get the casualties up from the bank on to the roadway."

Mr Doherty added that emergency services on both sides of the border worked well together on a regular basis.

"When it comes to rescuing people there are no borders."

Insp Harrison also appealed for the first man on the scene after the crash to come forward to tell police what he had seen.