Brave and humble hero Darren Hutton dives into raging Lagan to save drowning woman
A hero who braved the freezing River Lagan to save a woman drowning in the icy water has told how he thought he was going to die in the attempt.
Darren Hutton (43) managed to hang on to the woman until the emergency services arrived and saved them both.
The father of three boys said both of them would have died if not for the actions of two PSNI officers.
The Newtownards man was driving through Lisburn yesterday afternoon with his wife and son when they spotted the woman falling into the river.
But he played down his bravery, saying the dramatic rescue was a team effort.
"We were driving home down past the Civic Centre and my wife and son saw this woman falling into the water at the far end of the weir where there was a really heavy current," Darren said.
"The instinct was just the need to get her out of there, so we turned the car around. When I got out of the car, somebody had already thrown a life ring in.
"Basically I just saw she that wasn't really making any effort to take the life ring, so I decided to jump in and aid her to the life ring because I could see the water rising and the current was getting heavier.
"I took my coat off and jumped in and grabbed hold of her. I tried to pull her in myself while holding on to the rope of the life ring the whole time.
"I could just see her face in the water, but she kept going under. I just thought I needed to get her out of there. The PSNI arrived and those two officers saved my life trying to save her.
"One took his body armour off, got on the ground and just held on to the rope, and the whole time I was worried the rope would snap or whatever and I would be away because the current was getting really heavy. I was struggling to hold on to her the whole time while she was trying to fight for her life.
"I held on to her and the policeman held on to me. The policewoman was sitting on the policeman's legs."
Darren also told how his youngest son, Joel, also played a part in the drama.
"My 12-year-old son threw in another life ring which I was able to get my feet and my legs into," he said. "It supported my bodyweight, which meant I was able to hold on to her. It was colder than you could ever imagine. We went underwater three or four times with the current. The taste of the water was oily and dirty, and I was swallowing some.
"I really did fear for our lives at one stage. I started praying with her because at the end of the day I felt as if it was God looking after us."
Mr Hutton also praised the bravery of the fire and rescue team. "They came along and put a ladder down into the water, and a very brave fireman came down the ladder into the water and pulled us out," he said.
"I was losing my strength. He took hold of her. I was starting to fade. He managed to get her pulled out and then he came back in for me."
Darren also revealed he had not thought twice about saving the woman.
"Whenever I jumped in I wasn't really fearing for my life, I was fearing for her life - I just wanted to save her," he said. It was a ferocious current and it was so cold. I actually lost the strength in my hands. I couldn't really grip the ladder when it went in because it was so cold.
"It's something that you think to yourself if you would so it. I would have said that I probably wouldn't, but whenever you see someone in the water in distress that's potentially going to die, instinctively I think you just try to save them."
Mr Hutton and the woman were treated for the effects of hypothermia. He said he felt fine and was "glad to be warm again".
Tributes have been paid to the hero. One of his relatives said: "His family, especially his wife, are all so proud of him.
"He lost his mum on Christmas Eve last year and has saved someone's mum this year."
Cathy Shilliday added: "My brother-in-law Darren Hutton would like to thank the PSNI officers and fire and rescue services and ambulance service who rescued them, especially the two police officers that held on to him and the lady and the fireman who went into the Lagan with the ladder."
Matthew also Hutton wrote: "Very proud to be the son of this wally! Darren Hutton, what a mad man".
Eyewitness Helen Long (66) from Carryduff in Co Down, said: "I am absolutely sure this woman would have died if it wasn't for the incredible actions of Darren. He really deserves recognition for his bravery."