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Barnard Castle grandfather relives terrifying River Tees ordeal
A GRANDFATHER who fell into a river while doing DIY outside his neighbour’s house has thanked everyone involved with his dramatic rescue and spoken of his terrifying ordeal.
Jim Cunningham, 78, was left with agonising injuries after falling backwards off a ladder and into the River Tees, at Barnard Castle, while painting his neighbour’s conservatory at Demesnes Mill, on Saturday, September 14.
Mr Cunningham was airlifted to the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, after suffering nine broken ribs, a punctured lung, two wedge fractures of his spine, a large abrasion on his leg and hypothermia.
He spent nine days in hospital, five of which were in intensive care, before being discharged on Tuesday, September 24.
Now recovering at his home in Thorngate, surrounded by dozens of cards from well-wishers, Mr Cunningham has expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped with his painstaking rescue, which involved more than 30 people.
He said: “I fell backwards and crashed onto the rocks in the river. I was on my way down the ladder and the next thing I knew, I was looking up at the sky.
“I thought to myself ‘I can’t lie here’. The big jacket I was wearing was filling up with water so I knew I had to get that off.
“I knew I hadn’t broken my back - that was the first thing I thought of. I could move my legs, so I managed to haul myself round and crawl to the wall where the mill race was and found a chain hanging down which I hung onto.
“I was hanging on shouting ‘get me out of here, get me out of here’ because I was in complete agony and it was freezing cold in the water. “
The mill’s owner, Joan Young, witnessed the fall and immediately called the emergency services.
Members of the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, the police, paramedics, the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team and the Great North Air Ambulance took 45 minutes to rescue Mr Cunningham.
Specially trained firefighters waded and swam to Mr Cunningham, who was waist-deep in water, and strapped him to a spinal board, which was hoisted vertically out of the water with a system of ropes and pullies.
Mr Cunningham’s wife Pat, who witnessed the rescue operation, praised their family, friends and neighbours for their support after the incident, said: “It is great to have Jim home, it has been an absolutely horrendous time.
“I am just so thrilled that he is here to tell the tale. He is amazing.”
Meanwhile, Mr Cunningham also thanked the staff at the James Cook University Hospital who treated him, and added: “It was very frightening but I am just lucky that I have always kept fit enough.”
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