Ice rescue turns into tragedy

Three die after five-hour fight to revive them fails
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The Independent Online
LOUISE JURY and WILL BENNETT

An astonishing attempt by doctors to save the lives of a girl who fell into an icy lake and two men who plunged in to try to save her ended in failure last night when all three were declared dead.

Medical teams fought for more than five hours to save Tracy Patterson, 11, who had run on to the one-inch-thick ice after a dog, and her two would-be rescuers Michael Mee, 48, an off-duty firefighter, and Jack Crawshaw, 51.

All three were recovered from a lake at Kinsley, West Yorkshire, by police frogmen yesterday, but despite intensive hospital treatment they never regained consciousness. Medical teams attempted to warm the bodies of the victims, whose temperatures were so low as to be unrecordable when they arrived at Pontefract General Infirmary after nearly two hours in the freezing water.

Mike Playforth, the hospital's accident and emergency consultant, said all initial resuscitation attempts had produced no sign of a heartbeat or pulse. "But in a situation like this, you cannot say that somebody has died until the core body temperature has been restored to normal."

After the accident, which occurred only a day after Robert Giles, 25, died while trying to rescue his dog from a frozen lake, Divisional Fire Officer Colin Gavaghan of West Yorkshire Fire Service warned people to avoid frozen lakes and rivers.

The tragedy unfolded at the Hemsworth Water Park in Kinsley after Tracy, who lived with her parents and two brothers in Hemsworth, and a friend had collected several dogs from relatives and taken them for a walk. One of them, a Dobermann, chased some other dogs on to the ice and went through and when Tracy tried to rescue it she, too, fell into the water.

Mr Crawshaw, of Wakefield, who was passing by, began the rescue attempt after spotting the girl in difficulty but soon became waterlogged and sank.

Mr Mee, from Pontefract, a firefighter with the South Yorkshire Fire Service for 26 years, tried to rescue him by spreading a tarpaulin across the ice to bear his weight. The rescue procedure failed and the fireman fell into the water.

Emergency services arrived in minutes but were forced to abandon their efforts in the bitterly cold waters. A specialist underwater search team was called in, and found the casualties about two hours after the accident, which had occurred at 12.15pm. Six fire officers involved in the original search needed hospital treatment for hypothermia. The dog was later found dead.

At Pontefract General Infirmary, Mr Playforth said that some people could survive for long periods in water but after one-and-three-quarter hours it would be "very unusual". Despite this the casualties had been wrapped in blankets and were being warmed by cardiac massage and warm fluids during ventilation, he said.

The aim was to continue until their body temperatures reached at least 32C. Three hours after being taken from the water the girl's temperature was 20C and the temperatures of the men were about 30C.

When someone plunges into cold water, the body goes into a form of suspended animation. There is a rapid decrease in the core body temperature, cell activity slows and the amount of oxygen the individual requires is correspondingly low.

However, last night doctors admitted defeat and confirmed that the two men and the girl died just after 8pm. Mr Playforth said that their body temperatures reached the critical level of 32C, but there was still no pulse.

He said: "The core temperature was achieved and at that time we were able to attempt normal resuscitation techniques. The expectation was for the heart to begin fibrillation, but we had no indication of any electrical activity in any of the patients.

"In retrospect they were dead when they arrived [at the hospital] but we could not have ascertained that." He said all the relatives had been informed.

Mr Mee was married with two children, Katy, 20, and Christopher, 18. His wife, Elizabeth, was with him on a day out at the park.

Mick Reilly, Assistant Chief Fire Officer of South Yorkshire, said of Mr Mee last night: "His gallant attempt to rescue the girl was typical of his unselfish attitude and his dedication and his commitment to others."

The cold continued to cause chaos across wide stretches of Scotland and northern England yesterday, and a homeless man was feared to have also fallen victim to the bitter weather.

As the freezing conditions swept southwards, the Benefits Agency, responsible for cold-weather payments for claimants, announced that Leeds, Manchester and Tynemouth were among the latest areas where the payouts had been triggered.

About 55 Scottish Hydro-Electric engineers were expected to have restored electricity to the final 55 homes in Shetland by late last night.

Doctors' vain battle, page 2

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