Belfast Telegraph

Four men hailed as heroes for risking their lives to save car plunge pensioner who mistook overflowing River Bann for car park

By Amanda Ferguson

A car driven by an elderly woman who was saved from drowning in the River Bann by four heroes had disappeared from view by the time 999 crews arrived.

During flooding in Portadown on Friday caused by heavy rain, the pensioner is understood to have mistaken the overflowing river for a car park.

The woman in her 70s was pulled from her vehicle by four men who got into the fast-flowing water and linked arms to reach her. She was treated at Craigavon Area Hospital for shock.

Robert Best, who cannot swim, was among the local men to save her from drowning.

"I couldn't stand back feeling so helpless and see an elderly woman die," he told Downtown Radio.

"She was crying in her time of need. I'm sure her life was flashing before her eyes. I needed to do something.

"I would say moments later she would have been dead."

Two men who pulled the woman from the sinking car are understood to be from the Portadown Pikers who lost two friends in a drowning tragedy earlier in March. Daryl Burke (30) and his friend David Warnock (27) died when their boat sank in rough conditions on Lough Ree in Westmeath.

Firefighter Andy Black said the men "acted extremely bravely" and "undoubtedly saved this lady's life".

Last night NIFRS district commander Martin Thompson said when crews arrived at the scene at around 6pm on Friday the car had vanished and there was concern that other people could be trapped inside it.

"The river was flowing so fast," he said. "When we arrived members of the public were pulling the lady out of the water.

"We assisted them by wrapping blankets around her and administering oxygen before the ambulance service arrived."

The woman was taken to hospital and discharged on Saturday.

"The elderly lady was safe but we were concerned there could be other people in the car until we spoke to the woman's daughter who confirmed she was travelling on her own.

"The car is still in the water somewhere."

A quarter of a mile from the dramatic rescue operation fire service crews from Armagh, Belfast, Lurgan and Pomeroy assisted staff in Portadown to deal with the aftermath of the River Bann bursting its banks. At least four houses were badly flooded.

Specialist equipment used in the Portadown area over a 32-hour period at the weekend was pumping 4,000-6,000 litres of water per minute.

The operation began at 8pm on Friday and only ended on Sunday at 4am.

Fire service staff keep are keeping in close contact with the Met Office to ensure they are ready for the impact of more heavy downpours.

"We have been monitoring the situation and the river levels are dropping," Martin Thompson added.

"We have good communication links with the Met office and get regular updates." Northern Ireland is expected to stay mainly dry throughout today.

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