My hero... a kiss and a gong at the Palace for rescuer Ruairi
A Northern Ireland man who risked his life to rescue a yachtswoman who became trapped in her vessel in raging seas off a Greek port has been honoured at Buckingham Palace for his bravery.
Ruairi Bradley (39), from Rostrevor, now runs a restaurant and yacht repair business at Vlikho Harbour, Levkas, Greece, where the drama unfolded on September 28 last year.
The Co Down man was working in the harbour when it was hit by a freak storm with 100mph winds and mountainous waves.
Out at sea at the time, on their catamaran called Sanyassa, were couple Dr Clive and Norma Probert, from Blackburn.
Their vessel was hurled upside down in the water and, while Dr Probert was thrown clear, his wife, a non-swimmer, became trapped in the upturned hull. Her husband hammered on the hull from the outside and, despite the bedlam of the storm, managed to hear her hit back.
In the meantime Mr Bradley, who had witnessed what happened, manoeuvred his rigid inflatable tender through the other shattered and upturned boats in the harbour.
Dr Probert then took charge of that while the Ulster man dived into the churning waters, negotiated his way under the stricken catamaran through broken rigging and other debris, and into the cabin where the yachtswoman was trapped.
He then calmed her, told her the only way to get out was to take hold of him and follow him, and succeeded in getting her safely to the surface.
The Rostrevor native’s act of bravery was recognised at Buckingham Palace this week when he was joined by the relieved couple he had helped.
There, he was presented with one of the UK’s highest civilian bravery honours, a Royal Humane Society bronze medal by the society’s president, Princess Alexandra.
Speaking at the palace, Mrs Probert described her ordeal: “It was terrifying. I thought I was going to die. The water reached my chest and then stopped rising.
“If it hadn’t been for Ruairi’s bravery I think there is little doubt I would have drowned. I would not have been here today.”
She said that as she clung to life in the upside down hull, she heard her husband outside shouting that someone was diving down to try and rescue her.
Then she saw a dark shape below her and it was Ruairi.
She continued: “He said we had to swim out... I don’t even like water on my face in the shower, but I knew I had to do it. I tried to calm myself down and get some breath in my lungs, and not to think about what I knew I had to do.
“I don’t really remember what happened, but somehow we swam out together.
“I owe my life to Ruairi. He was a hero.”
She and her husband had spent countless hours sailing abroad but she admitted at the awards ceremony : “I haven’t been back on a boat since. I felt it was a message telling me it was time to stop.”
After receiving his medal, Mr Bradley modestly said: “I really didn’t think about the danger.
“I knew, of course, that there was danger but someone was trapped down there and had to be rescued.
He was nominated for the award by Dr Probert.