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Hero Toby (79) saves life of friend who fell in River Faughan

Happy ending after fishing trip goes awry

By Donna Deeney

Published 02/09/2016

The River Faughan at Drumahoe where Toby Gallagher helped Matt Deehan, who got into difficulties as they fished together
The River Faughan at Drumahoe where Toby Gallagher helped Matt Deehan, who got into difficulties as they fished together
Matt Deehan
Toby Gallagher

A pensioner who held his lifelong friend above water for more than an hour after he slipped into a river during a fishing trip has been hailed a hero.

Toby Gallagher (79) and 76-year-old Matt Deehan have been pals since they were in their 20s and during that time have enjoyed countless fishing trips across counties Londonderry and Donegal. But none were as memorable as the last one.

It almost came to a tragic end last weekend after Matt slipped on rocks as they were making their way across the turbulent waters of the River Faughan.

Matt went below the surface, weighed down by a heavy bag of equipment on his back.

Quick as a flash, Toby reached out and grabbed his friend - keeping his head above water as he rang the emergency services.

Due to the remote location, it was almost an hour before help arrived, but and somehow Toby managed to hold on to Matt and keep him safe.

While the pair are now recovering from the ordeal, neither wanted to talk directly about what happened.

But Toby's son Martin told the Belfast Telegraph that both families think it was a miracle and a testament to the bond of friendship between them that brought about a happy ending.

"Their ordeal was going on so long, Matt actually told daddy to leave him," he said. "But daddy wouldn't hear of it and told Matt he would hold him until the next day if he had to. That wasn't necessary and the pair of them have lived to tell the tale, and that's something we are grateful for."

Toby said his father was still reluctant to talk about what happened. "He doesn't really appreciate that he - without a doubt - saved Matt's life, but we are so proud of him and he is a real hero to us all," he added.

"It was my younger brother who alerted me on Sunday, but then he couldn't get through to my father again.

"So I tried and thank God I got him on the phone just as the emergency services arrived.

"He was going on pure adrenaline by that stage and was trying to talk to me while he was talking to the emergency services.

"We know now that daddy and Matt had been fishing on the Faughan out at Drumahoe for quite a while.

"They had actually packed up and were heading back home when we think Matt slipped or lost his footing and went under the water.

"He had his gear on his back and couldn't get up again, so my father grabbed him and held him above the water and at the same time used his mobile to ring 999.

"The were in an isolated part of the river, surrounded by trees, and the Fire Service man who rescued them said that if my daddy hadn't had the phone, they wouldn't have been found in time."

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