A POLICE chief yesterday praised “the courage, commitment and sang froid” of his officers who plunged into dark, icy waters to rescue a suicidal teenager.
Mike Barton, chief constable of Durham, said he would recommend them for a lifesaving award, adding: “The officers worked as a team and risked their lives to save a young man from drowning in treacherous conditions. The river was fast flowing, icy cold and it was pitch dark. They showed tremendous courage, commitment and sang froid.”
The alarm was raised shortly before 7.40pm of Tuesday last week, when a woman rang 999 reporting she was concerned for her nephew, who had told her he had received bad news that day and was threatening to harm himself.
She believed he was heading for one of the bridges in the centre of Durham and police were immediately deployed to try and find him. They also contacted the fire and rescue service, the ambulance service and the police helicopter and collected specialist river rescue equipment from the police station in New Elvet. Within minutes PC Nicola Quarmby and PC Paul Williams spotted the teenager standing on the outer side of Prebends Bridge, upstream from the cathedral, but before police could get to him he leapt from a ledge on the footbridge 70 feet into the water.
All available officers then dashed towards Prebends Bridge where they were joined by the teenager’s worried aunt, who had managed to speak her nephew on his mobile phone just before he clambered on to the bridge.
While a search began on the cathedral side of the bridge, Sgt Allan Chance, PC Kim Robson, PC Eamonn Kavanagh and PC Alex Armstrong joined PCs Quarmby and Williams on the opposite side of the bank.
Just two minutes later the teenager was spotted in the river but he then disappeared from view. Sgt Chance and his colleagues then clambered down the steep slope to the edge of the water to see if they could find him again.
The officers then saw the victim’s head once again bobbing in the water and it was clear he was in severe difficulties, struggling to stay afloat.
After removing his stab vest, equipment belt and loosening his shoelaces, Sgt Chance lowered himself down a grassy bank into the Wear – swollen from recent heavy rain – and managed to get hold of the drowning man. With the help of PCs Robson, Kavanagh and Armstrong he then started to drag him up to the riverbank.
Sgt Chance, 44, said: “It was freezing cold and pitch dark. The lad was literally down to his last breath. It was imperative we got him out immediately. I don’t like going into the water at the best of time, but I had no choice.
“He was a ton weight, very heavy to drag to the side but the rescue was a real team effort.”
Using the river safety equipment the four officers were able to slowly haul him up the slope and on to the path, where paramedics took him into a waiting ambulance.
The victim was admitted to the University Hospital of North Durham for treatment, including a mental health assessment.
Inspector Ken Pullan, who co-ordinated the operation, said: “This was outstanding police work in difficult conditions, and with time at a premium. If the officers had not been able to rescue the victim as quickly as they did, this could have had a tragic outcome.”