Villager risked own life to save teenager in River Swale tragedy

Dani Khan, right, with friend Ayaz Ali.

A local resident risked his own life to pull a teenager from the River Swale before desperate attempts were made to save him, it has emerged.

Dani Khan, 19, died after getting into difficulty at Wain Wath Waterfalls on the River Swale near Keld on Friday.

Local resident Ian Murphy, from Swaledale Yurts, jumped in and pulled the young man out of the water at the bottom of the falls.

Mr Murphy said he was alerted to the incident by his wife.

He went to the waterfalls but could not see the teenager and so dived into the water to search for him.

Mr Murphy said: “I went into the water under the falls and started to dive down. I couldn’t see more than about a foot in front of me.

“After the fifth dive I saw him laying on the bottom, so I grabbed him and pulled him to the top.”

Meanwhile, his wife had found two nurses to help after flagging down passing motorists.

They and Mr Murphy began CPR. The community defibrillator was fetched, although the device said a shock was not advisable when it was connected to Mr Khan.

Mr Murphy said he was glad he had been able to do something even the incident still ended tragically.

“If I had just had to stand there and there was nothing I could do I would have been worse.”

Photographer Mark Denton was running a photo tutorial session at the site and called emergency services from a farmhouse.

Mr Denton said he saw the group of friends before the incident occurred swimming and enjoying themselves.  

He said it was not possible to see the victim from the surface after he got into trouble.

“He (Mr Murphy) had to dive 8ft and go under a ledge underneath the falls.

“I knew river and waterfall swimming could be dangerous, but even with my awareness I was surprised how dangerous that was. It was very calm with just a trickle in the falls.”

Mr Denton said desperate attempts were made to save the man’s life.

“He got constant CPR from around five different people around him including Ian Murphy until the services arrived.

“Once he was out of the water I ran back to the farmhouse to tell 999 that it wasn’t a search and rescue anymore, but just a critical medical emergency.”

The tragedy happened at Wain Wath falls on the River Swale.

Mr Denton said he called emergency services at 5pm and believed it was 35 to 40 minutes before the first professional help arrived.

“The fire service arrived first, shortly followed by mountain rescue. Police and air ambulance, possible around five minutes later.”

Mr Denton said he had initially told the 999 operator that the air ambulance should be called and he did not know why it did not arrive until after the ground services.

He added: “I can’t help but wonder if there’s any way that emergency response times can be improved to these remote locations. As soon as the incident happened I knew the location was big trouble; you’d struggle to find a more isolated spot in England.

“Mobile signals are a problem in lots of places in the UK, whereas in the Alps every valley seems to be covered.

“While in this case the delay to alerting the services was only a couple of minutes, this can be a serious problem.”

The photographer said he believed we let young people down by not explaining to them the dangers of swimming in open water.

He added: “Every year when the weather gets hot we get these incidents.

“With my work for many years involving  these locations I am always aware of news of them.

“While there is clamour and alerts at the time , there doesn’t seem much sustained information for people of how dangerous these places can be. The water underneath the falls could not have looked calmer or more enticing. Yet the water is black and freezing, huge dangers exist of cold water shock and impact with unseen rocks.

He added that articles on open swimming could potentially increase the problem.

“I’m pretty certain that the only people that should swim in such places are strong and confident swimmers in a wetsuit or drysuit.

“I have no thoughts that the young men may have read these articles, but they add to the dangers in my opinion.”

The 19-year-old, who was married and whose partner is expecting a child, was airlifted to James Cook Hospital were he was later pronounced dead.

There are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances, and a report will be prepared for the coroner, a North Yorkshire Police spokesman added.