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Specialist swimmer deployed in dramatic rescue of woman from banks of Lagan

By Jonny Bell

A specialist swimmer was deployed in the rescue of a woman from the banks of the Lagan on Saturday in what is believed to be a Northern Ireland first.

Fire crews, the coast guard, police, ambulance crews and the volunteer organisation Lagan Search & Rescue were called to help the woman - thought to be aged in her 60s - after she had fallen down from the quay near Titanic Belfast just after midday.

The alarm was raised by a reporter from the Sunday Life, while another Sunday World journalist went to comfort the woman.

It's understood the woman suffered injuries to her head, arms and legs.

Lagan Search & Rescue (LSR) was on the scene within moments and specialist swimmer Tim Brown was deployed to provide assistance. The woman was then helped onto the boat before receiving medical attention in the nearby Belfast marina.

LSR is Belfast's only water rescue charity and is run solely by highly-qualified volunteers.

Phil Batt, a founding member of the service, said they have been pioneering the use of specialist swimmers in Northern Ireland.

"They are used only as a last resort, given the demanding nature of what they could face," he said.

"A swimmer would go into the water when the casualty is in a difficult to reach area for a boat.

"It is obviously very involved for them and they put their life on the line as they are out there on their own. It is demanding both mentally and physically for them, but they do take it all in their stride.

"And it has proved they are worth it, they make the difference.

"The lady was very lucky, this was a job well done by all involved."

The organisation has three specialist rescue swimmers with another two coming through the ranks. They go through intensive training and regular exercises to ensure they are ready for any call out.

Tim and fellow LSR specialist John Hunter have worked in the Aegean Sea and have been credited with saving the lives of 246 migrants in the ongoing crisis in the region.

Phil added: "We have been pioneering the use of specialist swimmers in Northern Ireland. They have been used a lot by the US Navy.

"Saturday was the first time they have been used in Northern Ireland."

LSR was established in response to the need for a dedicated rescue service on the Lagan and regularly works with the coast guard, police, fire and ambulance services.

Phil, who has a background with the coast guard added: "There always was cover on the Lagan but response times were too long and now we are guaranteed to have crews in the water within 10 minutes of a call."

A total of eight vehicles attended the scene, including three fire engines on Saturday.

A PSNI spokesman added: "Tactical Support Group, police search advisors, local policing teams and Belfast Harbour Police have been working with our partner agencies in a missing person investigation.

"Thankfully through team work the missing person was rescued from the water in Victoria Channel earlier today. We would like to thank Lagan Search and Rescue, NIFRS, HM Coastguard, NIAS, for their assistance today."

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