Grateful canoeist describes 16-hour ordeal

A canoeist who survived more than 16 hours trapped at the foot of a 130ft river gorge paid tribute to his rescuers yesterday. Apart from suffering mild effects from the cold, James Foley, a 37-year-old woodcutter from Perth, Scotland, was well when members of the Tayside Search and Rescue team abseiled down the gorge to rescue him yesterday morning.

Mr Foley was canoeing the fast-flowing river Ericht on Sunday afternoon, near Blairgowrie, Tayside, with his 22-year-old nephew, Steven Foley, when his canoe was smashed against rocks and he was thrown out on to a rock in the middle of the river.

His nephew raised the alarm with police at 7.30pm but because of the steepness of the gorge Mr Foley was not rescued for another 12 hours.

A helicopter was scrambled but as darkness fell it became impossible for its crew to see into the gorge past the overhanging trees to co-ordinate operations. Finally, shortly after dawn yesterday, Mr Foley, a father of three, was carried out by rescuers. Mr Foley, who has been a keen canoeist for three years, was full of praise for them.

"I was so pleased to see them," he said. "They were brilliant guys, but I owe my life to the helmet I was wearing. I would never have survived without it.

"I was confident that my wee nephew would go and get help. I never stopped hoping they would come, but I was never desperate. It was wet and cold down there. All I had was my life jacket and wet suit for warmth. I just tried to shelter the best I could."

"I didn't want to see a doctor, although the police wanted me to be checked over, I just wanted to get home. I'm totally shattered."