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Singaporean's split second decision saves drowning man in freezing Irish river

Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes, they wear their school t-shirts.

Mr Clement Tan, a 21-year-old Singaporean studying in a university in London, found himself in such a position when he went to visit his friend in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday (Nov 10).

Mr Tan, along with former schoolmates Mr Ellson Chow and Mr Kaiser Koh, both also 21, were taking a leisurely walk back to Mr Koh’s residence at around 7.40pm on Saturday, when they saw a man sitting on the parapet of the bridge they were crossing.

The man, who had been drinking with his friends on the bridge, was “definitely drunk”, Mr Chow, who is also studying in a London university, told The Straits Times on Monday. Mr Koh is a student at a university in Dublin.

Then, suddenly, the man fell into the river.

“When he fell in everyone thought he was messing around. Everyone just shouted at him to get out,”said Mr Chow.

However, it soon became clear that the man was drowning.


Mr Clement Tan is a 21-year-old Singaporean studying in a university in London. PHOTO: CLEMENT TAN

The man struggled to keep afloat and showed signs of losing consciousness in the cold water. It is winter during this time of the year in Ireland.

Passers-by tried to throw a life buoy to the drowning man but he had lost consciousness by then.

Mr Tan realised he had to do something.

“It was a split second decision,” he said, adding that he did not pause to think before taking the plunge.

“At that point I realised that if immediate action wasn’t taken, the possibility of him sinking and drowning was very real… I couldn’t bear the thought of passively watching someone die.”

So, despite the freezing water, he took off his jacket and jumped into the river in his school t-shirt and pants.

Once he hit the water, Mr Tan swam to the drowning man and grabbed hold of him and the life buoy.

But he had a problem.

The man was too big for the life buoy, so Mr Tan had to hold him to his chest with one hand and hold on to the buoy with the other, while still trying to keep afloat in the water.

Then, another problem cropped up.

“I couldn’t see the ledge on the other side of the river to swim to, and I was worried about how long I could last in the water as my legs were getting numb pretty fast. I thought I might actually die,” he said.

Fortunately, he heard an onlooker shouting about a nearby ladder and he swam towards it.

Back on the bridge, Mr Chow was getting anxious as he and others lost sight of Mr Tan after he swam under the bridge.

But he soon reappeared on the other side of the bridge and many members of the public, in trying to help, began shouting at Mr Tan to offer suggestions on what he could do next.

Eventually, Mr Tan reached a ledge by the river and, with the help of a policeman, heaved the man he rescued onto it.

Emergency personnel soon attended to them and said that the man was still breathing.

An ambulance took him and Mr Tan to the hospital, while Mr Chow and Mr Koh went to get Mr Tan a dry set of clothes.

After the ordeal, the three friends went to a nearby pub to get a drink.

Commending his friend’s bravery, Mr Chow said that Mr Tan had taken the initiative to help the drowning man even though there were uncertainties, such as the river’s current conditions.

Mr Tan, a former water polo player and a Republic of Singapore Navy officer, said his previous experience in the water “definitely helped”.

However, he admitted that there was “a lot of luck involved” in the rescue. For instance, if the river’s water levels were too high and there was no ledge nearby, things could have gone south.

“I’m thankful that everything turned out alright,” he said.

Despite saving a life, he does not consider himself a hero.

“I don’t think what I did was anything extraordinary. I think it’s a natural reaction to want to help someone in distress,” he said.

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