WATCH: Ferrymen rescue woman up to neck in water near Elizabeth Castle
A RESCUER has described the dramatic moments when he jumped from a ferry to save a woman stranded up to her neck in water on a rising tide.
During the incident, George McIlwraith, Elizbeth Castle ferry manager for Jersey Heritage, was forced to jump fully clothed from his vessel into the sea to save the woman who was minutes from drowning.
Video footage of the incident has now emerged online, showing the woman struggling to stay afloat and shouting for help, half-way between the castle and West Park Slipway.
Mr McIlwraith, who has had to carry out a similar rescue once before in his 11 years with the organisation, explained how the situation unfolded.
‘Myself and my colleague, Chris Hearmon, were at West Park when all of a sudden, St Helier VTS [Vessel Traffic Service] put out a distress call to ask if boats in the vicinity could make their way to the causeway, where two people were in difficulty.
‘A gentleman had managed to swim to shore where the Coastguard was waiting and we asked him if the lady could swim and he said “no”. We could not see her so we made haste with the ferry.’
Mr McIlwraith added that due to the low angle of the sun, he was not able to see the woman until he was just metres away.
He also said that the woman was standing on her tiptoes when they reached her and if she had strayed from the causeway she would have been completely submerged.
‘By the time we had got to her, only her head was still sticking out above the water – she had gone into full panic mode and was flapping her arms around,’ he said.
‘I jumped into the water, taking a lifebelt with me and swam to her with it, just to keep her buoyant, and then made sure she did not let go of it.’
The skipper added that another boat, called Normandy Dog, which had arrived at the scene from the Harbour, then took him and the woman to the Albert Pier, where paramedics and Coastguard officers were waiting.
‘The water was right up to her neck and she was panicking – I just knew we had to get to her ASAP,’ he said.
‘She swallowed a lot of salt water and was coughing. I just kept telling her, “look at me, do not look at the boat” and just tried to keep her calm.
‘You do not really think in those sorts of situations you just respond and we both knew that she did not have a lot of time left. We probably got there just in time.’
Gordon Inwood, skipper of the Normandy Dog, said that Mr McIlwraith had ‘undoubtedly’ saved the woman’s life.
‘On arrival we spotted one casualty very close to shore who was proceeding well but the second was much further out and in deep water, virtually out of her depth and in obvious distress,’ he said.
‘We also noted the Castle ferry making its way down the beach and into the water at a much higher speed than usual, clearly making its way to the casualty in deep water.
‘I feel the actions of the Castle ferry skipper saved this lady’s life, undoubtedly. Leaving a warm, dry boat to climb into cold sea water during a flooding tide to save another person’s life surely deserves some sort of recognition.’
The rescue comes just weeks after three surfers had to be saved in two separate incidents in St Ouen’s Bay, after becoming unable to exit the water during high spring tides.
Jersey Coastguard has now reiterated its message to anyone planning to explore the coast to ensure they have checked the tide times and weather forecast beforehand.
‘Tidal and weather condition updates are broadcast and publicised frequently by local media throughout the day as well as online via the website, jerseyharbours.je,’ a spokesman said.
‘In particular, if pedestrians are planning to cross any of the Island’s causeways, in this case Elizabeth Castle, we also provide an easy to understand guide on the website, which details causeway opening hours and the most appropriate time of the day to cross.
‘Sunday’s incident could have turned out so much worse than it did if it had not been for the quick action of a member of crew from the Castle Ferries who jumped into the water and went to the assistance of the walker and to whom we extend our sincere thanks and gratitude.’