Belfast Telegraph

I'm no hero, says Northern Ireland student who saved crash couple from river

By Stephen Maguire

A student from Lurgan has opened up about how he made four attempts to save the life of a drowning woman who had become trapped in a car after it plunged into a river - but insists he is not a hero.

Andrew Johnston had been visiting Buncrana, Co Donegal, for the weekend with his girlfriend Rhiannon Donaldson.

After passing through Porthall, just outside Lifford, on Saturday evening, he noticed a commotion on the road ahead at the Suile Bridge.

Suspecting there had been a car crash, it soon became clear that a car with an older couple on board had plunged into the water at the Suile Burn.

"I noticed this guy running towards me. He asked me if I could swim and brought me to the edge of the river," Andrew said.

"What I saw unfolding before me was the scariest thing I have seen in my life. I saw the wreckage of a car and a man, whose face was covered in blood, and standing on the top of an upturned car. I'm not a gold medal swimmer but I got out to him and asked him if there was anybody else in the car. He told me his wife was in the car. To be honest, it wasn't the answer I wanted to hear but I knew I had to do something."

For the next two minutes, the second year Ulster University engineering student tried on four different occasions to reach Loreta McKinlay.

Finally, with the help of Mr McKinlay - who assisted despite apparently suffering three broken bones in his back - he managed to pull open the rear passenger door and hauled Mrs McKinlay onto the top of the car.

"She was unconscious. Her lips were blue and I'd never seen anything like it in my life. It was so scary. I was surprised there was any breathing at all," he said.

Philip McKinlay then attempted to perform CPR on his wife.

Others from the riverbank had managed to get a garden hose from a passing motorist and threw it to the rescuers to use as a makeshift lifeline.

They managed to bring Mrs McKinlay to the riverbank but couldn't get her to dry land as the slope was too steep. A number of passers-by then managed to lift the stricken woman up out of the water and onto the edge.

The emergency services were contacted but Andrew said it was at least 20 minutes before an ambulance could get to the scene.

"It was the longest 20 minutes of my life. I did genuinely fear the worst for the poor woman but the paramedics were doing their best to help us on the phone before the ambulance arrived," he explained.

When the rescue services reached them, Andrew went to change his soaking clothes.

"When I came back they had put up a cordon and I could not get past it again. At that stage I thought I had done all I could and I drove on with my girlfriend," he said.

The McKinlays were taken to Altnagelvin Hospital, one by ambulance and the other by helicopter.

Mrs McKinlay was later moved to Letterkenny University Hospital.

Andrew travelled on to stay at the Harbour Inn in Buncrana on Saturday night, but kept a close eye on social media for any updates.

"I don't want to describe myself as a hero. I just wanted to find out how the couple were.

"I'm hoping they will be okay. I don't want to think what could have happened. A lot of people helped out on the day and I was just one of them," he added.

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