Helicopter blows pair to safety after river 'prank'

Ian Herbert,North
Thursday 28 November 2002 01:00
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A police helicopter saved two men from drowning yesterday by using its down-draught to blow them to safety.

Stephen Cairns, 19, and Anthony Wakefield, 22, were close to unconsciousness after 20 minutes in the river Tyne when the £2.5m Northumbria Police helicopter approached at about 12.40am. The helicopter lacked a winch, so its pilots hovered 50ft above the river and used their rotor blades to blow the men to the bank. When they were pulled from the water, one was almost unconscious and the other was "severely fatigued".

Mr Wakefield, a Coldstream Guard, said he had been celebrating in a bar with Mr Cairns. It was his first night on leave after serving in Northern Ireland and in what he described as a "stupid prank", Mr Cairns slipped into the water from the Swing Bridge, which links Newcastle and Gateshead. Mr Wakefield dived in to try to save him.

Sergeant Phil Lee, of the air support unit, said: "The rotors smooth out the water and change the flow, and it was used to drift them towards the bank. Clearly there is a risk but you have to make a calculated assessment."

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