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“I thought I had a dead body on my hands” - man dived into Wensum to save man floating in river

PUBLISHED: 16:42 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:45 22 August 2018

Adam Merchant, who dived into the Wensum to rescue a man seen floating face-down on Sunday, with daughter Isla, five. Picture: Adam Merchant

Adam Merchant, who dived into the Wensum to rescue a man seen floating face-down on Sunday, with daughter Isla, five. Picture: Adam Merchant

Archant

A man who dived into the River Wensum to save the life of a man seen floating face-down in the water said “I thought I had a dead body on my hands”.

The spot on the River Wensum where a man was rescued from the water. Picture: Dominic GilbertThe spot on the River Wensum where a man was rescued from the water. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

Adam Merchant, from Colchester, was walking along the Wensum headed for Whitlingham on Sunday at around 4pm when he spotted a man “splashing around” in the water near the Bishop Bridge.

“The most likely thing in my mind was it was someone having a swim,” said the 39-year-old.

“We could then see he had a hat on, was fully dressed, and wasn’t making any progress. He was just splashing around in one place.”

Mr Merchant ran down to the riverbank and shouted to some nearby people on a boat.

“I just wanted to see if he had managed to get out or not,” he said. “All they could see now was a hat floating in the water.

“That obviously set off alarm bells with me. I got undressed and swam out to him.”

Mr Merchant said his life saving training as a child “all came back”.

“I went on my back and got my arm around his neck so he was lying on top of my chest. He had been floating face down for a couple of minutes at that point. His lips were blue and he hadn’t breathed, and I thought I had a dead body on my hands.”

He was able to haul the man onto a nearby boat launch and began CPR.

“I got his head and shoulders out and dragged him up with as much strength as I had,” he said.

“There was another guy there with a life jacket who jumped in the water and helped me get him further out.

“Then I started compressions of the chest. After a couple of minutes he started breathing.”

A Broads Authority ranger then “commandeered a boat quite masterfully”, Mr Merchant said, and “took control of the situation” alongside police.

“He knew exactly what to do,” said Mr Merchant. “I can’t believe how quickly the emergency services got there. It was within minutes.

“Everyone just came together. We were inundated with blankets from the pleasure craft, and it was a pretty intense 15 minutes.

“I just wasn’t left with any choice but to go in and get him. It seemed like that’s what I had to do. Everyone acted so quickly. He was probably under the water no more than two minutes. Had it been four he probably would not have survived.”

The man, thought to be in his late 40s or early 50s, is now recovering. Police do not believe there to be any suspicious circumstances.

“It was complete shock”

Ryan Day, 44, from Sudbury, had been walking along the river to the train station with his mother and 14-year-old daughter when they saw something floating in the water.

He called police who he said arrived within five minutes.

“We stopped at the Bishop Bridge because my mum was tired and wanted to sit on the bench,” he said. “I was with my daughter and we saw something floating the town centre way. I said to her ‘that’s a body isn’t it’.

“As we were looking all of a sudden some boats started circling, and somebody jumped in the river from the opposite side and pulled him out.

“It was complete shock. It was one of those surreal things where your eyes are telling you something but your brain doesn’t register.

“It was heart in your mouth because they could see it was shallow breathing and I was relaying that to the police operator.

“The guy that jumped in the river was absolutely fantastic - I‘m just glad he is okay.”

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