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Canoeist thought she'd die trapped under bridge in river torrent

By Staff Reporter

A canoeist feared that she was going to die after getting into difficulties in a freezing and rain-swollen Co Antrim river.

Brave rescue teams plunged into the icy Six Mile Water River at the weekend to save Hannah Birt from certain death after her canoe smashed against Massereene bridge, trapping her in the torrent.

Emergency crews from the NI Fire and Rescue Service raced to the river at Antrim on Saturday afternoon as Hannah struggled in the fast-flowing water.

"The canoe flipped over and it just pinned my legs in the boat," she said.

"My hips were taking the full force of water. I was pinned under the water so I went for the surface.

"I yelled up 'I'm gonna die' and I called for ropes, and people dropped them down.

"I couldn't move, I was cold and hypothermic. The rescue services were brilliant, I couldn't thank them enough, as well as the people who were shouting and keeping me awake.

"I would have drowned if I had not got my head above water at that time," she told the BBC.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Paul Coyle, northern area commander with the Fire and Rescue Service, said Hannah had a very lucky escape.

"The river at Antrim was very full - there must have been at least an extra five feet of water in it, and it was flowing very fast.

"She had become trapped against one of the arches of the bridge, and was caught half-in and half out of her kayak, pinned there by the force of the water, which had wrapped the canoe around one of the piers."

Firefighters from Ballymena and Antrim were joined by a specialist team from Belfast, as well as by NI Ambulance Service personnel and Lough Neagh Rescue in what was a complex multi-agency rescue effort involving around 40 people, Mr Coyle said.

"It took an hour to complete the rescue," he explained.

"She was in that cold river for a long time, and it was fortunate that she was wearing a buoyancy aid and a dry suit - they undoubtedly helped keep her alive."

Ms Birt was taken to Antrim Hospital for treatment and was later discharged.

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