FENLAND: River rescue woman re-lives the dramatic moment she came close to death

PUBLISHED: 15:43 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 08:54 02 June 2010

Tony and Alma Ryman
crash along Forty Foot at Byall Fen Drove

Tony and Alma Ryman crash along Forty Foot at Byall Fen Drove

THE husband of a woman who narrowly escaped death after her car plunged into a river described how she phoned to tell him: Tony, your car is in the water, come and get me . Alma Ryman, from Manea, Cambridgeshire, miraculously escaped unharmed after her c

THE husband of a woman who narrowly escaped death after her car plunged into a river described how she phoned to tell him: "Tony, your car is in the water, come and get me".

Alma Ryman, from Manea, Cambridgeshire, miraculously escaped unharmed after her car plunged into the water close to where the Sixteen Foot Drain meets the Forty Foot Drain in rural Cambridgeshire.

"The car span on the road about 180 degrees," she said. "It was like driving on ice. I went in nose first. I just thought, 'Oh well, it looks like I'm going to die.' I was more concerned about my dog. She's lovely."

Passers by called to Mrs Ryman telling her to remain calm.

She said: "They just kept saying don't panic, stay calm. They told me to stay in the car and not get out too quickly or the car would go down.

"I have electric windows and need to push a button on my car keys to unlock them. I moved across to the passenger side and then said to myself 'you've forgotten to get the car keys. 'Come on Alma, keep it together.' The keys were stuck in the ignition and I couldn't get them out at first. I had to yank them really hard. I bruised my hand doing it.

"I pushed the dog out of the window but it swam back to see if I was okay, so I put her on the roof of the car after a woman told me to.

"You never think this sort of thing will happen to you, but I was surprised at how calm I was throughout. I never panicked.

"A big man then came down with a long pole to rescue me. He walked out about waste high into water. I gave him the dog first. He pulled it to the riverbank and then he came and got me. He's an absolute hero and he's saved my life. I cannot thank him enough."

Her husband, Tony, was in the bath when his wife called, shortly after her rescue.

"I didn't manage to answer the phone in time," he said. "I got a message from my wife. It just said, in a perfectly calm voice: 'Tony, your cars in the water, come and get me.'

"I rushed straight out. I was crying and my head was all over the place. I rushed down there so quickly I must have set a world record.

"When I saw her I just felt relief. She was calm but I was all over the place. I was in a state of shock and I couldn't string a sentence together."

Mrs Ryman lost control of her Kia Sorento after exiting Byall Fen Drove, near Chatteris, crashing through a fence into the water and was rescued by three passers by.

Mrs Ryman, who cannot swim, said she lost control of the car on the wet mud but was travelling at no more than 10 miles per hour when it crashed through the barrier.

She and her 10-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, who was also in the car, were rescued by passer by Jeff Pratt, from Tipps End, with the help of Denise Hicks and a woman called Melanie, from Manea.

When Mr Ryman returned home with his wife, his relief turned to anger.

He said: "I just walked around my house thinking about it. My wife nearly died because some idiot on the council has not done his job properly. The barrier might as well not have been there. The air bag didn't come out when Alma hit it. She can't have been going fast at all. The barrier should have been able to stand up to that. It's appalling.

"A police officer told me at the scene that the fence is there to stop pedestrians walking past the river from falling in. What absolute nonsense. Cars go by there all the time and people should be protected properly."

He added: "Alma was incredibly calm. I would have panicked and I'm sure that I would not have survived if it had been me."

Mrs Ryman, who was on her way to Harlow to visit her daughter, Mandy Barber, when she crashed through the barrier, said she was in the car for about 10 minutes while it was in the water.

Mr Pratt told the Cambs Times/ Wisbech Standard he is "no hero."

He was driving by the accident scene when he stopped, climbed down the bank and helped Mrs Ryman and her dog Tilly from the freezing waters.

Mr Pratt said: "I wouldn't call myself a hero, not at all. It's something that had to be done.

"The car was not a long way in so it was not hard to rescue her. The water was a bit chilly though."

Mr Pratt said he arrived on the scene to find a group of people standing by the side of the road. He asked whether the driver was out of the car and, when the answer was no, he climbed down the bank.

"It's one of those incidents where you've got to go and help," he said. "If you drive past and the worst happens, how could you live with that?

"She wanted to get her dog out of the car more than anything else; she wouldn't go until the dog was safe.

"The dog was on the roof of the car so I paddled back to the bank carrying the dog, and then I rescued the woman using a stick and dragging her through the water."

Mr Pratt also said he stayed at the scene merely 30 seconds afterwards, "because I wanted to get home and get changed".

However, he said: "As I was leaving the police arrived and took my details."

Mr Ryman said: "We're waiting to see what insurance payout we will get for the car.

"It cost £13,000. I'm not expecting us to get what it's worth.

"Alma got her handbag back but there were some expensive dog cages in there as well.

"I'm a self employed builder and Alma is retired so we're having a tough time of it already. This could hit us hard."

In the past six years there have been 30 accidents involving people entering Fenland drains following an accident - a third of them fatal.

Mr and Mrs Ryman run Manea Agility Dog Club and they own eight dogs.

Mrs Ryman said: "I love my dogs. If they had all been in the car I wouldn't have been able to save them. Our dogs are our lives. I would have been devastated if they had died.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Wisbech Standard. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Wisbech Standard