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China river rescue diplomat Stephen Ellison 'fastest to get shoes off'

media captionJust one month into his new role as consul general, Stephen Ellison saves a university student from drowning

A British diplomat hailed a hero for diving into a river in China to save a drowning student has said he was just the "fastest" to get his shoes off.

Stephen Ellison, 61, consul-general in Chongqing, was walking by a river in a nearby village when he saw the woman struggling in the deep water.

Mr Ellison said jumping into the water was a "split-second" decision after he was the first to get his shoes off.

He told the BBC: "I'm just happy it was a great ending for everybody."

Video footage filmed by onlookers show the 24-year-old student - who has not been named - struggling in the fast-moving current, before disappearing under a footbridge and emerging face down, apparently unconscious.

After slipping into the river on some rocks, the woman became "submerged for a little while" and then was "floating very lifeless on the water", the consul general, who takes part in triathlons, told BBC Breakfast.

Mr Ellison, who is originally from Newcastle, said everything "happened very quickly" when he made the "split-second" decision to take his shoes off and jump, fully clothed, into the river to save her.

"When I reached her and turned her over, she wasn't breathing, she was unconscious and I really was fearing the worst", he said of the rescue, which took place on Saturday morning.

The diplomat held on to a lifebuoy attached to a rope that had been thrown towards him by passers-by, who then helped pull him and the woman to safety.

Mr Ellison said he felt a "great relief" when the woman began to breathe, before she was hoisted out of the water by the passers-by.

He swam around to shallower rocks and climbed out of the river. He was given dry clothes and warm drinks by "very kind" villagers.

image captionStephen Ellison, centre, said the woman was shaken by the experience but recovering

Mr Ellison said jumping into the river was not a "big decision".

"I'm sure there would have been others into the river very quickly... I think I was the fastest one to get my shoes off, that's all that was," he said.

He acknowledged there had been some "some very kind comments" online about his actions, adding that he was "so pleased the young girl was OK".

"I'm just happy it was a great ending for everybody involved," he said.

He said the student, who is from Wuhan and attends Chongqing University, was shaken by the experience and recovering slowly.

But she was extremely grateful and has invited him to dinner with her family next weekend, which he said he would be "delighted" to attend.

Mr Ellison is head of the British mission in Chongqing where his role is primarily to support bilateral trade links between Britain and China.

'In China we call him a hero'

By Kerry Allen, BBC Monitoring's China media analyst

Relations between China and the UK have been rapidly deteriorating over the past year, amid rows over Hong Kong, tech firm Huawei and coronavirus.

Yet there's full praise online for Stephen Ellison, with Chinese social media users calling him a "hero", a "role model" and someone who is "worthy of admiration" for saving the student, who media said fell "while taking pictures". He's being described as "uncle", a term rarely used to describe foreigners.

"You'd call such a person a knight in the UK; in China we call him a hero," one user on the popular Sina Weibo site says.

"For such a big official to go into the water himself to save someone… you've got to like this," another wrote.

Footage of the incident filmed on locals' phones has racked up more than one million views after it was posted online by popular media outlets Global Times and Pear Video. It's also got locals doing a bit of self-reflection on how they view foreigners.

Despite recent negative feeling towards Britain, many Chinese say they're "shocked" that "so many [local] people were watching, and not a single person rushed to the water themselves" to help.

Related Topics

  • China
  • Asia

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