The policeman went back to where a woman was presumed drowned, with his torch providing the only light, because he carried the hope that maybe, just maybe, she was still alive.
And Constable Bruce Brits’s instinct proved him right. There, in the dark, he thought he saw movement, and jumped into the river to pull the woman to safety.
He does not see himself as a hero though. He says he was just doing his job when he waded into a fast moving river on Sunday night to rescue a woman who had reportedly attempted to commit suicide.
This is also not the first time the cop has rescued someone from a certain drowning – the previous time it was a colleague trapped in a police car after she was swept away during a flash flood.
Sitting in the Uitenhage Wimpy and sipping an orange juice on Tuesday, the 37-year-old policeman is somewhat surprised by all the attention, but is willing to talk about what happened on Sunday evening.
Lying in the water
Brits had been on duty at the Despatch Police Station on Sunday night when a man told them a woman was standing on the railings of the Ben Schoeman Bridge, and looked like she wanted to jump.
Brits and his colleagues immediately raced to the scene, but when they arrived, the woman had already jumped off the 40-metre-high bridge and was lying, face up, in the water below.
“You couldn’t really see much, as it is not very well lit, but we could see her in the spotlight, lying face up in the water. Her body was lodged against one of the support beams of the bridge,” he says.
The woman appeared to be dead, had been unresponsive to any calls, and there was no way to reach her where she was.
“We all assumed she was dead. Her husband arrived on the scene and he tried calling her, but he also thought she was dead,” he says.
Police divers had been called in to retrieve the body, and Brits was called away to another incident.
When he returned to the bridge an hour later, his colleagues and emergency services were still there waiting for the divers, but the body had dislodged and begun drifting downstream.
“Myself and Sector Police Official, JP de Kock, decided to go down the embankment to try get closer to where the body was, as I felt that, since she was still floating face upwards, there was a slight chance that she could be resuscitated,” he says.
Brits forced his way through dense undergrowth and thorn trees with nothing more than a torch to light his way, but eventually found a way down to the riverbank.
“The woman’s body had caught on the branches of a tree that had fallen over about 200 metres from the bridge. As we approached the current was pushing against the body and it turned her over and her face went underwater,” he says.
That was when Brits saw her hand move.
“It was a very faint movement, up and down, and I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining it or if it was the ripples of the water, but then she moved again so I just went into the water to get her out,” he says.
Brits says the river had not been that deep where he waded in, about waist height, although he remembers sinking deep into the mud as he went.
The two men managed to get the woman ashore and called for help from the paramedics above.
Brits also covered the woman with his shirt, which he had stripped off before going into the water.
“She was extremely cold, she was turning blue,” he says.
“We were able to stabilise her. When the paramedics arrived we strapped her to a board and then six of us had to carry her up to the ambulance in the stretcher.”
Not the first time he has rescued someone out a river
Brits recalls the previous time he had to pull someone out of a river.
In 2008 he and his then wife had responded to an accident involving fellow police officers on a gravel road in the Kruis Rivier area.
“A farmer had called it in and we rushed to the scene to help,” he says.
Brits says when they arrived they found the police van had veered off the road and had flipped end to end, with the cab submerged in the nearby river.
“The driver already managed to get out of the vehicle, but I went in and pulled the female officer out,” he says.
Brits only joined the police in March 2006, at the age of 28, but says he loves doing what he does.
“I always wanted to be a police officer. I had a number of jobs before this but this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says with a smile.
Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Gerda Swart said the 36-year-old woman rescued from the river has since been discharged from the Netcare Cuyler Hospital in Uitenhage, where she was treated after the incident.