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Philip Welch praises 999 heroes after river fall near Pickering
A MAN who fell into an icy river when a bridge collapsed beneath him has spoken of his ordeal for the first time, calling his recovery “an absolute miracle”.
Philip Welch, who suffered head, neck and back injuries, said he thought he had died in the fall and said his life had been saved by the air ambulance crew, paramedics, doctors and hospital staff.
In gratitude, he has now organised a fundraising event to support the Air Ambulance service, which needs £7,500 a day.
Mr Welch, who is 65 and owns Philip Welch Specialist Cars in Dunnington, was out with a group of about 14, which included his eldest daughter and seven-year-old grandson, when he stepped on to the metal bridge in High Askew, near Pickering, on January 3.
He said: “It just instantly gave way. One side of it snapped away completely and the metal structure just buckled. It literally flung me head-first into the water and I hit my head.
“I can’t describe the pain, in my neck, back and head. It was unbelievable. The impact was excruciating and I was underwater and couldn’t see. I thought I was dead.”
Members of the group waded into the river to help Mr Welch and another man in his 50s, who had also fallen when the bridge collapsed. They took off items of clothing to wrap around the men to keep them warm, while another went for help.
Mr Welch said: “My eldest daughter, Nichola, and seven-year-old grandson, Freddie, were just about to step on to the bridge behind me. They were stranded on the other side of the river on their own. Freddie fortunately hadn't got on to the bridge.
“There was no signal on anyone’s mobile. Someone managed to get to the nearest road in the middle of the forest and stopped a car that, fortunately, had a GPS phone in it. They put everything in motion.”
Paramedics and two air ambulances were called, and Mr Welch was taken by the Great North Air Ambulance to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough, where he stayed for four days. Tests showed he was suffering from fractured vertebrae in his neck, whiplash injuries to his neck and shoulders, a severe laceration to his head, bruising of the lining of his skull, and several sprains.
Mr Welch said: “The paramedics were fantastic. When the whole thing swung into action it was terrific. The doctor in the helicopter was brilliant and although I was semi-conscious at the time I knew where I was going and was wheeled straight into hospital. It was a very well-oiled machine.
“I think when the chips are down the NHS, which gets an awful lot of flak, is still arguably the best emergency service in the world. I don't care what anyone says, they were brilliant. Lying there, looking at hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment, you know where your income tax is going.”
Mr Welch is now back at work at his specialist car dealership near Dunnington, although he said he “generally feels like I’ve been through the mill”.
Now, with the sponsorship of local companies, including Browns department store and Herbert Todd & Son, Mr Welch is hosting a fundraising exhibition in June, with a theme of classic Jaguar sports cars.
He said: “I feel 65 now. I always considered myself quite fit and up for anything but at the moment I have all on to get out of bed on a morning. How I have survived it, I don’t know. People have died from a lot less than that. The air ambulance service costs £7,500 per day, they have to find that and people just don’t realise.
“The running of the helicopter, only a small part of it comes out of Government funds.
“I feel quite emotional thinking how lucky we are to live in this country with the service we have.
“If it had been anywhere else, I probably wouldn't be here today.”