TEENAGER Ryan North is alive because two policemen caught a glimpse of his hair in the swirling River Aire.
For 20 minutes PCs Benjamin Cowell and Mark Lund had scanned the surface of the river in Leeds with torches after an anonymous 999 call told of shouts from the water.
They were near South Accommodation Road when they heard a noise which they thought was an animal. But they refused to give up searching and finally spotted Ryan’s hair bobbing on the surface.
They managed to get his near-lifeless body to the edge of the water and colleagues helped lift him out.
Now the PCs have been thanked by Ryan and his family, who presented them with chief constable’s commendations.
Ryan, 18, from Chapel Allerton, Leeds, has no recollection how he got into the river on a night out in October.
PC Cowell said: “When we first got there it was pitch black. We were using high powered torches [but] had no specific location for the casualty. Occasionally you could hear a noise, not much more than a whimper and we thought it might be an animal in distress.
“After 20 minutes we finally saw a head barely above the water so Mark took off his body armour and I held on to his legs while he leaned out into the water and managed to get hold of Ryan’s hair.”
“Due to a six-foot drop from the path to the water we couldn’t lift Ryan out so we pulled him as close to the edge as we could.”
More officers arrived and lifted Ryan out of the water where PC Cowell applied first aid until paramedics came.
Ryan went to Leeds Infirmary in a critical condition with hypothermia. It is believed he was in the water for 45 minutes.
After a week’s treatment for a serious infection he made a full recovery.
Ryan, who hopes to start university, told the officers: “I can’t thank you both enough; I was told at the hospital that my body temperature had dropped seven degrees so I was very lucky.”
Ryan’s mum, Katrina Dalton, said: “This has completely changed my life. It make you realise how fragile life is.”
His stepfather, Michael Dalton, told north east Leeds commander Chief Supt Richard Jackson: “Everyone involved was fantastic, I can’t fault anyone and the officers are a credit to you.”
Mr Dalton said: “This was a night out that went wrong. Ryan’s survival is totally down to those police officers. We urge people going for a night out to stay away from open water.”
Chief Supt Jackson, said: “The bravery, courage and tenacity shown by these officers was exemplary.”
After several drownings in recent years, the debate continues in Leeds on how to prevent people on a night out from falling into the river.