For more than 100 yards, the police helicopter "hover-taxied" a few feet above the waves of the Bristol Channel as Constable Phil Bracegirdle clung on to the woman by the wrist, keeping her just above the water.
Yards before the helicopter reached the shore, he released her into the shallow water, before diving in with a colleague, dragging her to the beach and bringing her back to consciousness. The woman, in her late thirties, was later said to be "satisfactory" in a Cardiff hospital.
PC Bracegirdle, 42, an observer on the South Wales and Gwent police helicopter, said: "All I could do was to sit out, wrap my legs around the skids and hang on to her. There were no boats around to pick her up so we just had to go for it. It was an incredible piece of flying by Angus. He was rock steady, just high enough to keep the woman's head out of the water."
The helicopter crew were scrambled from their base at Cardiff after a group of fishermen near Sully Beach reported seeing a fully clothed woman walk into the sea in a distressed state.
Within 10 minutes, Captain Angus Paterson, 32, was hovering over the half-submerged woman who was being swept out further into the Bristol Channel.
An ex-Royal Navy Sea King air-sea rescue pilot, he kept the Squirrel helicopter in position while PC Bracegirdle, attached to a safety harness, climbed out on to the skids two feet below the cabin.
Soaked in spray, PC Bracegirdle managed to seize hold of the woman's right wrist at the third attempt and clung on until he managed to drop down lower and get both hands on her.
"I was absolutely numb with cold and it felt like my arms were being torn out. There was just no other way of getting her ashore. I had no idea whether the woman was alive or dead. But we gave mouth-to-mouth and she started to revive."
Captain Paterson said: "Phil was the hero of the hour. I just don't know how he had the strength to hang on to her. It was difficult because I wanted to get her ashore as quickly as possible - but I had to take it slowly to prevent her being swept away and disappearing under the aircraft."
A few feet from the shore PC Bracegirdle released his grip. With South Wales police colleague Paul Hayes, 35, he then dived into the water and pulled the woman on to the beach.
Paramedic Graham Plumridge, making his first helicopter flight, gave first aid until an ambulance arrived.Reuse content