A STUDENT had a lucky escape after being left clinging to a tree in floodwater just metres away from a current that could have swept him into the raging River Tees.

The dramatic events unfolded in the wake of Storm Ciara when 18-year-old Ben Casey was driving to Darlington along the Low Dinsdale road and his car was swept off the carriageway.

Ben, of Little Smeaton, had approached the bridge over the River Tees from the Girsby side, where there was no road closed sign, and plunged into the flood waters on the other side of the bridge.

His car was picked up by the water and crashed through a fence before drifting across the flooded meadows where it began to sink.

Ben frantically called his mum and the emergency services whilst his car was going under before he managed to escape through a window as the vehicle was engulfed by freezing water.

Ben, a student at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington, said: “The car just filled up too much so I wound the windows down because I knew I had to get out.

“I jumped out of the passenger window on to this tree and I just clung there.

“It was horrific.”

Simon Blake, who lives in Low Dinsdale close to where Ben left the road, was doing a last check of his grounds when he noticed red lights in the flooded meadow at about 11pm on the Sunday night of Storm Ciara.

The Northern Echo:

The stranded car yesterday Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

He hurried out with a torch to investigate and as he neared the floating vehicle he could hear Ben calling out in the dark.

Ben, who was soaked through, was still clinging to the tree for safety, unaware that if he followed the treeline it would lead him across a deep beck where the undercurrent would likely sweep him out towards the Tees in full flood.

Mr Blake, who knows the land well, encouraged Ben to swim through the relatively calm floodwater towards the high ground in the meadow away from the fast-flowing beck and its potentially deadly current.

Ben said: “I had been there holding on to the tree for about 20 minutes before Simon came with his torch doing his check-ups.

“It was pitch black and I didn’t know the land at all.

“I don’t really remember what I was thinking about at the time, or about what I was going to do, only that it was an horrific situation.”

Mr Blake continually shouted directions and encouragement to Ben amid concern that he could be suffering the onset of hypothermia and shock.

The Northern Echo:

The flooded River Tees just upstream at Croft on Sunday afternoon Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Luckily Ben made it safely through the floodwater and was taken back to Simon’s house to warm up and recover while an ambulance arrived.

After being checked over by paramedics, Ben was taken home by his mum and said he is not expected to suffer any further ill effects, other than missing his car which had been his 18th birthday present.

He said: “Simon reckons if I had been in there another 20-minutes I might not have made it.

“When I came out my hands were frozen, my wrists were frozen in place.

“I didn’t talk for about an hour after I got out, I think I was in shock.”

Mr Blake said he was glad he was there to help Ben and said that guiding him though the floodwater was a risk worth taking.

He said: “It is about having a leap of faith.

“It probably isn’t the police guidelines, they would say wait for the services’ support, but sometimes you have got to trust your instincts and I knew Ben could do it.

“I was worried about him getting hypothermia, you have only got about 40 minutes in these waters; he would probably have been in real trouble because you go into unconsciousness definitely within an hour.

“He took the risk and it was the right thing to do.”

Mr Blake added: “It is good to have a happy ending.”