Dramatic water rescue of woman and trainee guide dog

A fully trained former lifeguard’s clear-headed actions saved a woman’s life after she fell into a fast-flowing freezing river while attempting to rescue a novice guide dog. 

Luke Harrison Professional Photo

Officers at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) have thanked Luke Hartshorn for springing into action during the hair-raising incident on Saturday morning.  The 66-year-old woman, who does not wish to be named, is a volunteer guide dog walker. She got into difficulty in the River Calder just before 10am after the trainee guide dog she was out walking slipped into the water.

As she was trying to get the dog out, she too slipped down the banking and into the ice-cold water. Only by grabbing onto a tree trunk bent over the river did she manage to stop herself from being dragged under by the current.

Her friend then tried to help to get her back on dry land, but then she too succumbed to the dangerous conditions, slipping down the bank into the water, unable to reach her pal who was too far away.

Luke, who was walking his dog Tess along the river by Sowerby Bridge, saw the commotion at the water’s edge.

The 35-year-old knew from his previous career that he had to act quickly to stop the situation getting worse. “One woman had already been pulled from the water, along with the dog when I got to the scene,” said Luke who was walking from Sowerby Bridge towards Copley. The lady in the water was soaked and looked exhausted. I could see that if she was to let go of the tree things could get a lot worse.

“It really was a spur of the moment decision as I took off my coat, top and boots and went into the water. People have asked me if it was freezing – it must have been, but I was running on adrenalin so didn’t feel anything.

“I managed to get hold of another branch, held onto the woman, and helped her to bring her arm around the tree so that people on the bank could reach her. Then the crowd pulled me out and as I was getting dressed the fire service and paramedics arrived.”

Crews from Halifax attended as well as the specialist water rescue teams from Rastrick and Bingley. Luke, who is associate director at Walker Singleton Chartered Surveyors, said he used to be a lifeguard and co-incidentally had worked with one of the firefighters, Andy Ball, who turned up at the scene.

“I told firefighters what had happened and then carried on walking my dog. It wasn’t until I got home that it all started to sink in. I’ve only done one rescue in the past, and that was on holiday in Cornwall when two young children were playing by an estuary when the tide came in fast. The rescue on Saturday was a team effort, with the other people doing everything they could to save the woman.”

Assistant District Commander Chris Bell was at the scene and said Luke showed incredible bravery. “He put himself in significant danger to assist the lady who was suffering from exposure to the cold water,” he said. “When Luke arrived at the scene people were climbing on trees at the water’s edge to try and reach her.

“He went into the cold water, approached the lady, and guided her to the safety of the riverbank where he lifted her out of the water.

“She had been in the water for a prolong period, and although other members of the public did assist in the rescue, the actions of Luke may well have prevented an escalation of the incident due to the cold water, the speed and flow of the river and her location in the trees.”

Officers are however keen to use this incident to highlight just how important it is to ring 999 immediately should anyone get into difficulties like this. They also urge people to not put themselves in danger by trying to rescue pets or other animals, and again emergency services should be contacted directly for assistance.

“The lady had entered the water to rescue her trainee guide dog, and this shows how dangerous it is to try and rescue animals from the water,” added ADC Bell. “Secondly, unnecessary delays in coming to her aid were made. The first call for help was made using WhatsApp to the local housing estate’s community group rather than direct to us. Eventually someone did the right thing and called 999 and asked for the fire and rescue service.

“Luck was on their side that a trained lifeguard was able to jump in and assist. Had he not been there, the delay in calling 999 could have had much more serious consequences. The river was flowing fast, and the water was extremely cold – the lady is lucky that she didn’t get swept downstream. Thanks to Luke’s quick-thinking actions he was responsible for saving her life.”

Members of the public should not go into water after their pets and need to keep dogs on leads when close to water, ice and other risks such as cliffs. If they get in difficulty, they need to call 999 and ask for the fire and rescue service. Using What 3 Words can help for the exact location of incidents.