A HERO coastguard officer plunged into the River Wear to help save a man from drowning.
Neil Mearns grabbed the struggling man and kept his head above water after he had fallen 85ft from Wearmouth Bridge yesterday afternoon.
The 57-year-old volunteer Coastguard Rescue Officer climbed down a ladder into the water at the former Austin’s pontoon, near Panns Bank, while rescue teams rushed to the scene.
Neil said: “When I got there the police were already there and had thrown him a life ring and had managed to get him to the river edge.
“He was obviously badly injured and had a lot of blood coming from his mouth and was complaining of a bad pain in his abdomen.
“He was having great difficulty clinging on to the lower rung of the ladder at the side of the river.”
Concerned that the man was going to slip into unconsciousness and drown, Neil climbed into the water and held on to the man.
He said: “I was really worried he might lose his grip and possibly, because of his injuries, fall unconscious, so I decided to go in and help him.”
As well as helping him to stay afloat, Neil kept the man talking and was able to provide him with support until the RNLI lifeboat arrived to take him to shore.
After about 20 minutes, the Pennywell man was pulled onboard the RNLI’s Atlantic Lifeboat and taken to the marina, where he was given emergency treatment before being transferred to Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Neil said: “This is what we’re trained to do and I would do it again. I would have been uncomfortable standing on the quayside watching because I thought there was a real risk of him slipping out of the life ring and drowning.
“There was also a real concern because he really did have some serious injuries and was close to unconsciousness.”
The man, who is middle-aged, remains in hospital were he is being treated for his injuries.
Paul Nicholson, senior helmsman at Sunderland RNLI, said: “On arrival at the scene, we were directed towards the man by Coastguard officers who were stood on the quayside.
“After manoeuvring the boat alongside the man, we were able to quickly pull him aboard.
“Thankfully, with the assistance of the Coastguard rescue officer, the man was able to stay afloat until we arrived.#
“His condition was at risk of quickly deteriorating as he was suffering from internal chest injuries and hypothermia.”
A rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer was also scrambled to help find the man in the water.