Monday, 10 December 2007

Jumpers

The River Thames is a very treacherous river, with powerful undertows and currents. Jumping or falling in is exceedingly dangerous and more often than not, fatal.

When I read this story yesterday about a policeman who rescued a Thames bridge jumper, it brought back a few memories.

When we were first married and living in East London, Richard was in M Division and based at Tower Bridge police station.

During one Night duty a call went out that someone had reported a person falling into the river further up stream and officers were being sent to all Thames bridges to keep a look out.

Richard was assigned to Tower Bridge and for several hours he was stationed at the railings in the centre of the bridge searching constantly for signs of a body floating past.

During that time he had a lot on his mind - what on earth was he going to do if he saw something he thought was a person?! Would he jump in after it or not?

The dangers of jumping into the Thames are well known to Officers in Divisions along the river. The strong undertow exists only about 18 inches below the surface in most places - and if it takes a hold of you, you will not see the surface again for many a month.

Experts on the river know all about it. If you tell them where, when and the approximate size of a person/object dropped into the Thames, they will tell you where (usually at a particular bend in the river near the Isle of Dogs) and when (usually several months later) this object will resurface.

Instructions from Senior Police Management are always:
(a) NEVER endanger yourself,
(b) The role of a Police Officer is to provide all the help and assistance possible, and preserve life at all costs.

Rather conflicting don't you think........

Richard decided that night that he would jump in if there were any hint that the person was still alive. If they genuinely were face down and not moving....then he would hesitate...maybe. Or maybe he would find it impossible not to jump in anyway just in case he could revive them....

Luckily for Richard, he was not put to the test. Unluckily for the person, they did not surface until a few months later, almost unrecognisable, at a certain bend in the river near the Isle of Dogs.
***
Statistics show that people who seriously want to commit suicide choose usually to jump in front of a moving train. Immediately terminal and unequivocal.

Those, for whom it is really a cry for help, usually choose to jump off a bridge or tall building or to take an overdose.

Sad but true.
***
During all his years in the Service, it was a well known fact that Richard hates heights, and I mean HATES them!
It was also a well known fact that he often was the Officer who 'dealt' with the suicide jumpers - something about his deep, calm voice maybe! He seemed to attract them like flies.

This is a story I remember, probably well embroidered over the years but often laughed about in the Pub after duty in that curious type of way that all serious, life threatening jobs have (if you don't laugh, you would cry).

A person was sitting on a ledge outside a window in a high-rise block of flats threatening to jump. Richard and a colleague were sent to deal with it. Thanks a bunch thought Richard!

He spent quite some time leaning out of the window (which only reached just above his knees) trying to talk the person into coming back inside, whilst not looking down. His colleague meanwhile was holding onto Richard's belt - his standard Police issue leather belt.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the person decided to come inside - but then slipped.

With lightening reflexes, Richard grabbed at them, whilst yelling at his colleague to hold tight....using certain words not appropriate to print here.

Meanwhile, the potential suicide jumper was shouting 'Don't let me fall!! I don't want to die! I don't want to die!'

The logistics of trying to drag back inside a large hairy copper hanging out of a window, with his arms wrapped around a person screaming their head off - using just a standard Police issue leather belt - was comic book stuff.

He wore that same standard Police issue leather belt throughout all his service. A lucky charm perhaps?!
***
When our current dog was about 7 months old, we took her walking along the River Thames at Runnymede. A popular place for walkers and families.

Trouble was, there were MANY geese.

That day across the grass she saw the geese all sitting together on the water - her eyesight was good then! She was not good though at differentiating between land and water - one you can walk on, whilst the other, well, you sink. As she found out.....

She ran straight off the edge and dropped into the Thames. Trouble was, she did not surface again. The undertow had got hold of her.

Richard threw himself on the ground just a bit further down stream and plunged his front half into the water, leaving just his legs out balanced on the land. Fishing around in the murky waters, he felt something furry brush past his fingers and he made a desperate grab at it.

It took some strength, but he managed to keep hold of Xena and dragged her out. The power of the current had been incredible, just a couple of feet from the edge - where children often played and swam.

Frightening.

The dog did not learn her lesson. Some months later she jumped straight into the canal at Guildford because she saw LeeLee on the other side. The child knew all about foot bridges - but the Sussex Spaniel didn't!

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