Public saved trapped disabled man from car sinking in canal

Photo from the canal rescue on April 22 - courtesy of Bucks Fire and Rescue
Photo from the canal rescue on April 22 - courtesy of Bucks Fire and Rescue

A rescuer who dived into a canal to help save a trapped disabled man whose car had plunged into the water has spoken of the nightmare moment the vehicle began to sink.

Graeme Carter, 28, of Ledburn, was driving past the Fenny Road layby near Mill Lane, Stoke Hammond when he was flagged down by a member of the public, Rex Mant, who had spotted the car in the Grand Union Canal.

Graeme pulled over and jumped into the water to assist a runner who was the first on the scene.

He said: “The runner was already in the water when I arrived. He explained that the trapped man was disabled and therefore could not use his legs to free himself.

“I got in the canal as soon as I realised it was necessary because the emergency services were potentially a way off. The runner had already said that he couldn’t lift the man out on his own. It wasn’t a worry, just very cold.

“As the car was slowly sinking, the door would not open due to the pressure of the water.

“Whilst the emergency services were arriving and when the car was almost completely submerged the pressure equalised and we were able to open the door, freeing the man and help him out of the canal.

“From what I could tell, the disabled man was a bit shaken up and very cold but seemed unharmed from the initial incident.

“I was on my way to set up my pop-up kitchen and then play a cricket match so I didn’t have time to hang around and find out how he came to be in the canal.

“On reflection, it was lucky the runner and Rex had seen the car in the canal. Without them, the trapped man would have undoubtedly struggled to free himself.”

Rex, of Stewkley, was in his car with wife Wendy, when something caught his eye as he passed the scene.

He said: “I was driving from Bletchley to Stoke Hammond and just said to my wife ‘there’s a car in the canal’. I slammed on the brakes and saw a fella the other side with his shirt off. I thought he was the driver, but he said ‘no, I’m a runner’ and he jumped in.

“He couldn’t get the door open. He shouted over to me to say the person was disabled.

“I flagged down another car and he jumped in and helped. I stayed on the side making phone calls as I’m 63 and have had a heart attack so I couldn’t jump in.”

Rex recalled: “The water was at windscreen height. I could see him in the driver’s seat, they got him in the passenger seat by pulling him as they reached through the window, but the electrics seemed to be making the windows keep closing. At this point the police and fire service arrived and the men were screaming at them to help, just before the car sunk.

“The men were talking to him while the water was at windscreen level, but then in just two seconds the car had sunk to roof level. At that moment they got him out, it must have adjusted the pressure on the door. They pulled him out under the water.

“They did not think about themselves. If they had not been there he would not have survived. Police officers said he was lucky someone had seen him. It all lasted 10 to 15 minutes. But the man had been pulled to safety by the time the emergency services got in the water.”

An initial brief statement provided by Bucks Fire and Rescue concerning the incident on Saturday, Aprill 22, at about 10.30am, said the driver had been rescued by firefighters – with no mention of the roles played by members of the public

That prompted Graeme and Rex to get in touch with the LBO with their accounts of the incident.

A subsequent statement released by the fire service did however acknowledge the vital role of the passers-by.

Watch Commander Kevin Mercer said: “When firefighters arrived they were faced with a very challenging scenario as they could see the car was still sinking with the driver still in the vehicle.

“Two members of the public had already entered the water to try to release the driver, but the car doors would not open due to the pressure exerted on to the doors.

“Firefighters wearing drysuits and buoyancy aids entered the water to assist with the rescue. Only after more water had entered the vehicle could the door then be opened to allow the release of the driver, and the Bletchley crew then rescued the uninjured casualty and took him to the canal bank.

“Newport Pagnell’s water rescue crew then brought him back across the canal on a rescue sled to a waiting ambulance. The crew then assisted a recovery vehicle with the safe and controlled removal of the vehicle from the canal, which limited the environmental impact of the incident.”

He added: “All crew members worked very well together throughout an incident which could have ended very differently.”